Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Strangerer

Here's the problem with seeing shows so late in the run: I don't have proper time to recommend them to other people. Any weekend bloggers may have noticed that The Strangerer landed on my Best of the Best for a whopping two days before it closed and was gone forever (or at least to New York -- where I still name it Best of the Best.)

The Strangerer was one of those experiences where I had a physical reaction to theatre. It doesn't happen often, and when it does it usually manifests itself in the weeping, convulsing vein. (See Lookingglass Alice, the latest Best of the Best addition) After The Strangerer, I was shaky and unsettled. I couldn't breathe quite so deeply as I would have liked and I kinda wanted to huddle in a corner and gather my bearings. But, despite how it may sound, I didn't find it to be a reaction of fear or dismay. I'm not entirely sure how exactly it would qualify other than being extremely and deeply real.

I remember the first time I read The Stranger. It was my entry point into the Existentialist line of thought and a bit of a life-changing event. (It wasn't long after that I discovered Nietzsche, also earth-shattering.) Mickle Maher (who, with apologies to Marisa, Emily, and Tracy, now without a doubt gets my vote for best Chicago playwright) has taken the bleakness and the freedom and the intertwining of the two from Meursault and settled them onto Bush. The brilliance of the piece, however, is the completely earnest nature in which he does so. This is not parody, this is not satire. This is hardly a comedy; it is, of course, but only in the deepest, darkest sense, the sense that everything is a comedy inasmuch that everything is held to far more importance than it holds. By applying the vision of Meursault to Bush, Maher makes sense of Bush (or at least a possibility of sense) and in front of an urban theatre crowd no less -- a group that one can all but guarantee isn't nearly as interested in making sense of Bush as they are in making fun of him.

As the play moves on, it becomes more and more unsettling as we realize that we are not simply seeing Bush as Meursault, we are watching Bush make the very same existential realizations in front of us. And then, as Bush relays a harrowing story of his witnessing an actual child killed on stage in a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, we know that the only rational conclusion to a show so hyper-aware of its theatricality is the irrational one -- the on stage murder of the actor playing Jim Lehrer. Of course, it's not going to happen. Of course. But couldn't it? Why not? Would it really matter? And then Jim Lehrer leaves. And Bush follows him out. And Kerry keeps talking to us, more or less explaining to us the murder that is happening in the lobby. And I wanted to leave; I wanted to see the murder, not hear about it. I was seconds from actually getting up to see, Vivian Girls-style, what was happening in the lobby. I think the only thing that kept me was the possibility that what I would have walked into was an actual murder. The ideas presented were that palpable.

I have to cut this short even now, because I know that I'm doing a horrible job of relaying my thoughts. Which I credit to Maher: it's the same difficulty I have relaying the connection I feel to Existentialism and the work of Camus and Nietzsche and the like. I've known a couple of people in my life who simply connect to the ideas in the same manner, and it's almost unspoken; we're just aware that there is a deeper vein between us. I'd like to have a sit down with Maher sometime, because I don't see how a piece this natural could come from someone not in on it.

Go see it if you're in New York. That's about all I can say.


I moved on Monday. So that's done. Now I need a job. Anyone? I'm capable.


This week's schedule is a relaxed holiday weekend: tonight is Cirque du Soleil's Kooza, tomorrow is Griffin's Be More Chill, and Saturday is BackStage's Bloody Bess.


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