Steppenwolf's A PARALLELOGRAM Review - a knock it out of the park season closer

A Parallelogram at Steppenwolf Theatre until August 29

A Parallelogram may not be a sexy title for a play, but it is totally engrossing, unpredictable but consistent with the plot and characterization, thoughtful, funny and profound. What a knock-it-out-of-the-park show to end Steppenwolf's season. Its spell-binding plot, ingenious scenic design and lighting, and outstanding acting create a fascinating world--Bee's world.

Kate Arrington's Bee believe she can see and perhaps control and change the future with the remote.

How does this happen?  That depends on your take on the play.  Does Bee really see into the future with her magic remote?  Is the dumpy, constantly smoking  old woman who explains the parallelogram really her future self? Is she hallucinating? Is this just an illustration of her angst-ridden insight into her life and the way it's headed?

Bee, played so sympathetically by Kate Arrington, is stuck in bed playing solitaire, watching her world revolve around her. Literally.  Even the set moves, but not her.  She just keeps playing solitaire (and, by the way, never wins). She believes she can not only see the future  but also change it.  With each click, we look into Bee's dark, funny, time-warped world and learn more about ours.

Her partner, played thrillingly to his full obnoxious self-absorbed shallowness by Tom Irwin, personifies an over-the-top male chauvinist pig who, having left his wife and children (for Bee), is on a rant about how unfair society is to white males. Uh huh. I imagine this was an "Aha!" moment for lots of women in the audience.

J.J., the lawn guy, is an interesting foil to Jay with his gigantic Uber ego.  Tim Bickel's delivers with a balanced performance that establishes his character as a servant at the whim of Jay who is sensitive to Bee's needs.  Too bad we didn't have a chance to see more of this talented young man.

Norris, Shapiro and Bickel rehearse. Photo: Mark Campbell

But for sheer magnificent, unbelievable brilliance, Bruce Norris deserves some special prize for his creation of Bee 2, 3 and 4.  And Marylouise Burke should win an equally auspicious prize for her portrayal of Bee 2, 3 and 4.  Her low-key yet nuanced characterization of all three "characters" allows them to morph yet stay the same yet be importantly changed.

Sometimes the alter ego eclipses the personality

The set, lighting and sound powerfully underscore our perception of Kate's world.  The room's too wide and white.  Bee's window on the world is too perfect--the green is too green.  Why is there a bird cage in the middle of the room.  The doors are strategically placed so Jay can petulantly enter, exit and slam his way into Bee's life. And Bee 2 is sitting on the outer edge of the room...

Ensemble Member Kate Arrington as Bee and Marylouise Burke as her alter egos, Bee 2,3, and 4

If we knew the future, would we be better people? Would that change the future? Think so?  See A Parallelogram and tell me if you still do.  Really.  Is that what the play is really about? Stay for the post-show discussion. Still think so? Send your opinion to [email protected]. Let's continue this existential discussion.

Playwright Bruce Norris returns to Steppenwolf with this incisive, new work following his critically acclaimed off-Broadway hit Clybourne Park.   He joins forces once again with Tony ® Award-winning ensemble member and director Anna D. Shapiro – the team that brought Steppenwolf audiences powerful hits including The Unmentionable, The Pain and the Itch, Purple Heart and The Infidel.

Bee even has two suitors: Jay played by Tom Irwin and J.J., Tim Bickel

The impressive design team for A Parallelogram includes: Todd Rosenthal (sets), Mara Blumenfeld (costumes), James F. Ingalls (lights), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound).   Polly Carl is the Dramaturg, Cecilie O’Reilly is the Dialect Coach, Laura D. Glenn is the Stage Manager and Christine D. Freeburg is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Kate (Bee) and Tom (Jay) during one of many awkward moments

Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre , 1650 N. Halsted St.

Ticket prices:$20-$70

Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11:00 a.m. on the day of each performance ( 1:00 p.m. for Sunday performances).  Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.   Student discounts available.

Audience Services: 312-335-1650

Online ticketing available at

The A Parallelogram MaTEENée performance for high school students will be held on Saturday, July 17 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and include: a ticket to the performance, food and a post-show discussion with actors featured in the production – hosted by Steppenwolf’s Young Adults Council (use source code: 6679 ).

A Parallelogram Wine Tasting Night:   Enjoy wine and food pairings from Vinci Restaurant with live musical entertainment in our balcony lobby:   Wednesday, July 21 at 6:00 p.m.   Tasting and performance cost $60 per person.   For tickets and additional information, contact Audience Services.

Explore: The World of A Parallelogram - Saturday, August 7 at 5:30 p.m.   A free event in a new series celebrating the themes and ideas in our shows.   Explore involves an innovative artistic presentation reflecting show themes, participation from a Chicago community partner and a relaxed atmosphere with food, drink and live music.

Accessible Performances:

Sign language interpreted performance: Wednesday, July 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Audio described performance: Thursday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Free post-show discussions , sponsored by AT&T, are offered after every performance.

Assistive listening devices are available for every performance.

A Parallelogram was developed as part of Steppenwolf’s New Plays Initiative.   Steppenwolf is recognized as a national leader in the development and production of new work for the American canon. Through this initiative, the company maintains ongoing relationships with writers of international prominence and rigorously discovers and supports the work of early and mid-career playwrights.  

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

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