Comic tragedy is a difficult genre to master. Sideshow Theatre has done just that.
In its Chicago Premiere, Maria/Stuart by Jason Grote and directed by Marti Lyons offers Chicagoans a unique experience.
Presumably it is the late polyglot and fan of Schiller, the father and grandfather whom we never meet, who gives Sideshow’s Maria/Stuart its title.
Reportedly having more than 200 plays written about her during her lifetime, Mary Queen of Scots adds yet another to her roster with the Sideshow ensemble’s expertly delivered comedic tragedy, “Maria/Stuart”. Like that Mary Queen of Scott’s story of murder by the machinations of Queen Elizabeth, Maria/Stuart is a modern family’s tale of betrayal and lies, and then even more betrayal and lies., and then even more…
Betrayal, lies, laughs--- on all counts, no shortages.
The action takes us from Grandma’s birthday, a day noted by all as usually depressing, to her funeral a few months later. Along the way we learn about what had been happening behind the scenes for lifetimes, with all secrets delivered to us by the morphing “changeling”, a name that European folktales often give to mythical figures descended from trolls.
Even before the first curtain, scenic designer Nick Sieben’s eye for detail in spacing the floor tiles pulls us into this family, for better or worse. It is in the intimate kitchen and dining room that we learn about the secrets that have brought the family to the climactic days we share together.
On the surface, we meet three sisters continuing a sibling rivalry that has apparently been their stock in trade since childhood Meanwhile, son/grandson Stuart attempts to steer clear of all conflict while he scrambles to put together a get-rich –and-famous -quick scheme for a movie with a comic book hero he has resurrected. His beautiful cousin says with every gesture that where she wants to be is “anywhere but here”. Grandma’s mind wanders and we delight in her wistful quips. Then, disabled Aunt Sylvia arrives to regale us with more truth than other family members are able to manage, while she deftly handles snack food of all kinds with two hook prosthetic hands that turn out to be THE reminder of the BIG lie at the family’s core.
Olives and husbands are M.I.A. Eyes roll, vegetables are cut with attitude, brandy is rapidly downed and soda slurped (and it IS slurped a LOT) with robotic flourish. Sisters snap at each other in a way we know they have been doing for decades. Impassioned tantrums smash a Schiller bust and casseroles alike.
There is nothing to laugh about—and yet we do..
In fact, we become so accustomed to the detailed comedic timing of this cast—Nate Wheldon as Stuart, Scottie Caldwell as Hannah, Mary Anne Bowman as Lizzie, Ann James as Aunt Sylvia, Susan Monts-Bologna as Ruthie, and Jennifer Joan Taylor as Marnie—that we quickly take it for granted.
We laugh and we laugh again and soon we lose track of our own laughter.
How fitting that the Sideshow Ensemble has partnered with Chicago’s own 4C organization (Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (http://www.c4chicago.org/ ) as part of its community outreach program to engage all Chicago in living theater. If you have known a young man whose life was turned around and put back together by C4 as I have, you would wish that the family we watch in Maria/Stuart had had the luck of finding such a service.
That, however, would probably make for a far less funny or tragic evening of theater.
Maria/Stuart run time: March 30 – May 5, 2013
Theater Wit building, 1229 West Belmont, Chicago
Curtain Times: Thursdays- Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 3 PM
Tickets at either www.sideshowtheatre.org or Theater Wit box office, (773) 975 – 8150.
Photos: Jonathan L. Green