Bailwick Chicago’s See What I Wanna See is a drama, a musical, and a meditation on the elusive nature of truth. It also is two hours long and as subtle as a lightning bolt. Performing as part of Steppenwolf’s fourth annual Garage Rep, See What I Wanna See does have its high points. The actors for one are more than versatile enough to handle multiple roles. At the same time, however, the story lines are so layered and slow developing there is little room for laughs or genuine drama.
Based on the short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, See What I Wanna See is two acts set in New York City but not directly related to one another. Both acts are introduced with a scene out of feudal Japan concerning two lovers likely to murder the other. Murder and sex also play a big part in the first act where a violent act may not be exactly as it appears. Director Lili-Anne Brown does well here experimenting with the many layers of truth with each reality introduced as a police confession. Danni Smith (a seductive torch light singer and wife) and Sharriese Hamilton (The Medium) also standout here for their strong vocal chops and convincing acting. At the same time, however, I could not help comparing the tale with the play running next door (Motherfu**er With The Hat). Maybe in Japan it is believable that suicide is the logical answer to being cuckold. In the States we are more likely to go after the motherfu**er.
The second act begins with a young priest who has lost his faith. When he decides to play a little joke, events escalate and a whole gang of misfits are inspired. Again, Danni Smith (this time as an older and cynical Italian aunt) and Sharries Hamilton (an unsteady actress) shine. But the relatively simple plot does not easily translate into an hour’s worth of entertainment. The resolution, while certainly pleasing to some, felt too contrived for me to truely enjoy.
Steppenwolf certainly deserves applause for allowing smaller and often homeless theater companies a “safe space” (their words) to perform their art. To that end is fitting that an out of the box creation like See What I Wanna See finds a home at Steppenwolf. I just wish that See What I Wanna See revealed more with less.
Bottom Line: See What I Wanna See is somewhat recommended for its often intriguing plot lines and strong acting. At the same time it may felt more than a bit long and could have used a healthy dose of subtlety. Also performing at Steppenwolf as part of its Garage Rep are Theater Seven’s Black Top Sky and Buzz 222 Chicago’s She Kills Monsters. All performance are running through April 21st. Every Thursday theater goers will also be treated with The After Party which was described in a press release as a “line-up of late-night, cross-genre performances.” Tickets to the shows are $20 or $45 for a three play pass. They can be purchased at steppenwolf.org. There are also discounted student tickets as well as group tickets available at steppenwolf.org/students and steppenwolf.org/groups. For more theater reviews, check out theaterinchicago.com.