What of the Night? Review - Stories of Sex, Power, and Poverty

 

(from left) Kathryn Acosta, Nelson Rodriguez, Stephen Loch, Dionne Addai and Kate Black-Spence in What of the Night?

 

Cor Theatre and Stage Left Theatre present What of the Night?, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play written by acclaimed Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés and directed by Carlos Murillo. A collection of four one-acts, the play follows members of an impoverished family as they pursue their disparate yet interwoven paths. Complex and tragic, What of the Night? is an interesting if somewhat bizarre piece of theatre.

 

Nelson Rodriguez plays Ray and Kathryn Acosta is Lorraine in What of the Night?

 

The first playcenters on Nadine, a tough woman who fights for her survival and the survival of her children Charlie and Rainbow. We also learn play she gave away a baby named Ray, a character who plays a significant role in each of the following plays. The second act follows Rainbow as she struggles to support her sick lover Greta, ultimately mirroring her mother by taking on unsavory work to care for the ones she loves.

 

Miguel Nunez is Pete and Tosha Fowler is Nadine in What of the Night?

 

The third play introduces the life of Ray, who has found relative prosperity in business, but whose relentless obsession with his work and cruel treatment of his probably-mentally-ill wife Helena makes him difficult to sympathize with. The fourth play takes place in "a future after an economic collapse" and brings the characters into a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland where their fortunes are reversed; Ray lives in poverty while Charlie has a position of authority and Birdie, Charlie's ex-wife, is wealthy.

 

Nelson Rodriguez plays Ray and Tosha Fowler is Reba in What of the Night?

 

The play fluctuates between realism and fantastical, bordering on hallucinogenic, elements. The characters have moments of intense humanity, especially Rainbow, Greta, and Helena, women trapped in difficult circumstances by domineering men in their lives and harsh economic reality. The women in general are much more sympathetic than the men, whose struggles are more often the result of their own attitudes and choices rather than external circumstances.

 

(from left) Kathryn Acosta plays Rainbow and Allyce Torres is Greta in What of the Night?

 

The story is sometimes a bit difficult to follow; the extended hallucinogenic fever dream of the third act and the barren wasteland of the final play are not unrelated to the story, but the dots are hard to connect and the bizarre elements of both can be distracting. Some of the storytelling is a bit choppy; Rainbow and Greta's scenes skip through time, but nothing really indicates this except their dialogue. The play is also fairly long and doesn't move especially quickly; the epic nature of the saga stretches it out to nearly three hours.

 

(from left) Allyce Torres plays Girl, Dionne Addai is Birdie, and Tosha Fowler plays Nadine What of the Night?

 

There is some strong acting work in the show; Casey Morris handles the extreme emotional states of the suffering Charlie deftly, and Kate Black-Spence embodies perfectly the flighty, anxious nature of Helena. Tosha Fowler presents nuanced performances as both the strong Nadine and the confused but compassionate Reba. Allyce Torres is deeply compelling as Greta, although her German dialect seems a bit off.

 

Kate Black-Spence plays Helena and Nelson Rodriguez is Ray in What of the Night?

 

Violence design by Nick Sandys falls short of impressive; the violence in the play feels very obviously staged and inorganic. The sexual content of the play is poorly coordinated as well, and the combination of this and the unpleasant nature of the sex itself makes these scenes difficult to watch. Scenic design by Eleanor Kahn, accompanied by graffiti by Anthony Venturini, helps create the desolate mood of the environment the characters occupy. Carlos Murillo's direction of the more challenging fantastical scenes is well-executed, and show's concept overall demonstrates understanding of a difficult text.

 

Nelson Rodriguez (front) plays Ray and Stephen Loch is Joseph in What of the Night?

 

What of the Night? is definitely not a traditional show, and Cor Theatre and Stage Left Theatre's production makes no attempt to fit it into conventional boxes, instead embracing the alternative method of storytelling and strange nature of some of the content. In this way, the production is a success. The text is not always easy to connect to, but it certainly contains themes worth considering.

 

Casey Morris plays Charlie and Dionne Addai is Birdie in What of the Night?

 

Ticket Information

Dates: January 12 -  February 12, 2017

Times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Location: Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

Tickets: $18-$30. On sale now at the Cor Theatre website, the Stage Left website, or by calling (773) 975-8150.

Note: For mature audiences only. Contains sexual content and partial nudity.

 

All photos by Ian McLaren

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