Steppenwolf ‘s 2013-14 season, which focuses on the theme, “Getting Ahead” opened with The Wheel by Zinnie Harris, featuring Joan Allen. The season opener is the first of five stories on this theme.
My husband and I were intrigued by the chance to see Joan Allen on stage and are glad we did. Ensemble member Tina Landau directed The Wheel in its U. S. premiere. Harris’s epic, a work of magic realism tells the story of Beatriz (Joan Allen) as she attempts to reunite a young girl with her father in nineteenth-century Spain. The large cast of 17 features ensemble members Joan Allen (in her first appearance on stage at Steppenwolf since 1991), Robert Breuler, Tim Hopper, Ora Jones and Yasen Peyankov. The National Theatre of Scotland commissioned and produced the world premiere of The Wheel in 2011.
As Beatriz (Joan Allen) and her sister Rosa (Chaon Cross) are happily preparing for Rosa’s wedding their world is turned upside down when the groom arrives, pitchfork in hand suddenly part of the army and ready to occupy their farm. Transformed from farmers to soldiers these former neighbors are suddenly occupying the farm and are dangerous.
Tomas (Demetrios Troy), Rosa’s “almost groom” leaves but returns with a little girl who is looking for her father. Beatriz really wants nothing to do with her and to get rid of her Beatriz takes the girl to find her father. An unimaginable journey through wars over time begins. Beatriz travels with the girl, searching and eventually adds a boy and a baby too, as they pass from one war to the next and witness more than anyone ever should. Although there are echoes of Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage, I had an image of Ground Hog Days, compelled to repeat war over and over trying to get things right.
The story is deep and not comfortable. It asks many questions. Why does war repeat? And what is war to a child? Who is the mysterious girl? Why is war everywhere with only the weapons changing? What is it that can stop wars from repeating?
This production offered the most unusual staging I have ever seen. Kudos to the staff members that created the lighting, sound, staging, costuming and special effects. The acting was powerful, compelling and the story, fantastical. From the musical beginning to the hopeful conclusion, the hour and fifty minutes without intermission moved from humor to terror with many emotions between.
You may want to look the other way, but there is an important message in this play, even stronger with the world around us still threatening. This play is the beginning of a season that promises to show the audience the ways that people get ahead, face difficult situations and survive.
And don’t forget the post show discussions, which I always find fascinating. It was especially interesting to have Martha Lavey leading the discussion and Zinnie Harris offering comments at the end.
The cast of The Wheel features ensemble members Joan Allen as Beatriz; Robert Breuler as Clement; Tim Hopper as Colline; Jaques and Glennister; Ora Jones as Madame and Hanna; and Yasen Peyankov as Sargento and Jozka; with Kareem Bandealy as Moreno and Farshad; La Shawn Banks as Pedro and Hancock; Chaon Cross as Rosa; Emma Gordon as The Girl; Mark L. Montgomery as Rossignol; Erin Oechsel as Ensemble; Stephenie Park as Thi and Blandine; Daniel Pass as The Boy; Edgar Miguel Sanchez as Ensemble; Scott Stangland as Juan and Pierre; Demetrios Troy as Tomas and Xuan; and Matthew Yee as Ensemble.
The production team for The Wheel includes: Blythe R.D. Quinlan (scenic design), Ana Kuzmanic (costume design), Scott Zielinski (lighting design), Kevin O’Donnell (sound design), Stephan Mazurek (projection design), Matt Hawkins (fight choreography) and Dennis Watkins (magic consultant). Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Deb Styer (stage manager), Kathleen Petroziello (assistant stage manager, September 12 – September 16) and Cassie Calderone (assistant stage manager, September 17 – November 10).
Tickets to The Wheel ($20 – $82) go on sale Friday, August 9 at 11am through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. 20 for $20: twenty $20 tickets are available through Audience Services beginning at 11am on the day of each performance (1pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket. For additional student discounts. Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season. For additional information.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow