Steep Theatre’s “Brilliant Adventures” Review – Disturbing, Poignant, Brilliant

Curtis Edward Jackson, Brandon Rivera (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


As Chicago’s junk bond status and flirtation with bankruptcy is in the air, Edgewater’s Steep Theatre Co. brings us a production, “Brilliant Adventures”, where the economic devastation of the area where the play is set is a background driver to all the action. 


Curtis Edward Jackson, Ryan McBride, Brandon Rivera (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


The curtain opens and we are immediately ensconced in a crumbling flat of Middlesbrough UK, or “Boro” as the locals call it.  We read in the program that youth unemployment there is 25%, population is fast declining, and most residents are on public assistance.  Drugs are cheap, housing projects are abandoned, and there are even wild horses roaming about that pose hazards.  Save the horses, it sounds a lot like post-industrial Detroit or Gary. 


Peter Moore, Brandon Rivera (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


A relatively flashy Londoner (Ben, played by Steep’s Artistic Director Peter Moore) has come to town precisely to prey on those left in this no-future economic wasteland.  His view is that everyone can be bought and paid with money, sex, or violence. 


Curtis Edward Jackson in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre



That Ben is a “psycho” is immediately apparent to the young stammering scientific genius in whose apartment all the action takes place (Luke, played by – SPOILER ALERT! ---both Curtis Edward Jackson and Ty Olwin), but not so much to his drug dealing older brother (Rob, played by Ryan McBride) or his omnipresent bad penny like friend (Greg, played by Brandon Rivera), who instead see Ben as just the man to give them the opportunities they need to get out of the nowhere place they’ve been.   The other character you meet is “Man” (Will Kinnear), who unlike his name, appears to be a dog on leash.   


Curtis Edward Jackson, Peter Moore (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


Some might be drawn to this as a sci-fi genre.  True, there’s a time machine, but that is more a nifty dramatic device through which action threads like a needle at times.  The heart and soul of this story is about brothers, regret, and the degradation that comes in a no-hope zone like the Boro.   


Curtis Edward Jackson in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


Warning:  There are moments in this play that are so disturbing that you may carry them to your grave as psychic tears. 


Ty Olwin, Peter Moore (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre



Try to steel yourself however because otherwise you will miss out on a poignant play well worth your time—an excellent script (Alistair McDowall), a flawless cast who never lapse from being totally believable in part thanks to Robin Witt’s direction, also with set design (Dan Stratton), Lighting (Brandon Wardell) and Sound (Thomas Dixon) that are standouts and award worthy.


Ryan McBride, Ty Olwin (l to r) in Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre


How lucky that we attended the play, the same night as playwright Alistair McDowall visiting from the UK!  McDowall wrote “Brilliant Adventures”, his debut work, in 2010, which has since been staged outside the UK.  In the back and forth discussion with the audience led by Steep’s Dramaturg Jeremy Kazan, McDowall shared how it was actually a bit disturbing to him that the devastation of a place like the Boro was accessible to audiences outside the UK. 



Playwright Alistair McDowall


Explaining why the time machine was meant to look like a child’s toy of a cardboard box, McDowall said, “Naturalism isn’t enough to keep up with the emotional things in life, which are both black and white and in Technicolor at the same time….


“If you write a play it has to be a play.  Most of the time plays aren’t very good and most of the time I just don’t enjoy going to the theater.  If I’m asking people to sit in a room I have to have a reason.  It has to be something more than a video. ..”


Continuing to speak of that and other devices he employed in the script, McDowall said, “It’s not the naturalistic gesture.  Rather, it’s a very aggressively theatrical thing to do.  It says it’s fiction but it also is trying to get at something more universal.”


McDowall’s script not only tries to get at something universal; it succeeds.   In a word, “brilliant”.


Now through August 15. 


Steep Theatre Company

1115 Berwyn Avenue

Chicago, IL


For tickets visit the Steep Theatre website or call 866 811 4111.




Photos:  Brandon Wardell






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