Chicago Theater Review: THE MOTHER (Oracle)

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by Paul Kubicki on May 14, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


Workers and theatergoers of Chicago unite! Oracle Theatre is mounting a rousing defense of Karl Marx and the Bolsheviks, and demands your undivided attention. Though my experience is admittedly limited in the realm of communist propaganda, Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Oracle's THE MOTHERThe Mother is not only the best agitprop I’ve seen to date, but it packs a real emotional punch.

Bertold Brecht’s iconic tale depicts a tense pre-Revolution, pre-war Russia. We follow the eponymous mother — who goes red as soon as Marxism is finally explained to her — as she climbs the ranks of Bolshevik resistance inspired by her impoverished son’s oppressive factory wages. Written during Hitler’s ascension, The Mother (translated by Steve Gooch) may not be as well-written as Mother Courage and Her Children, but Oracle capitalizes on the full range of the piece’s dramatic potential.

This success is primarily to the credit of the brilliant Max Truax’s direction. Even within the scope of the experimental Brechtian style, Truax is staggeringly innovative. The audience sits on stools between a series of wooden tables (set by Eleanor Kahn). The actors either crouch beneath the tables — surreptitiously handing out pamphlets — or stand or on top, proselytizing about the virtues of the working class struggle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Truax does more than Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Oracle's THE MOTHERutilize his space, he creates it, expands it, and bends it to his liking. His staging is a lesson in what beauty can come from breaking all the right rules. (Stage and Cinema’s Critic-at-Large Tony Frankel noted Truax as “brilliant” in his review of Brand, but at the risk of sounding redundant, I concur wholeheartedly.) His leadership clearly inspired the crackerjack design team: Jeremy Clark’s video design — an homage to silent movies of the era, including scene-defining intertitles — is projected on both sides of the audience; Eric Van Tassell’s side lighting creates the shadows familiar to German Expressionism; Joan Pritchard’s realistic costumes are effective even as they eschew the highly-stylized outfits common to Brecht; and the angular whiteface make-up (uncredited) is right out of Wiene’s influential film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Oracle's THE MOTHERTruax finds support in a wholly committed, entirely engaging cast. Their passion for the material is infectious. I was ready to leap from my seat and clasp hands with other spectators. Some viewers even began to sing along; and they easily can, thanks to the haunting simplicity of Jonathan Guillen’s score (arranged with Musical Director Nicholas Tonozzi); by steering clear of unnecessary intricacies, Guillen’s nuances make Brecht’s lyrics even more effective.

While this production might have been even more timely a few months back when the Occupy Movement was in full swing, Oracle manages to commandeer on the economic and political frustration leftover from the recent Great Recession (which Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Oracle's THE MOTHERcan now be called the Not As Great But Possibly Perpetual Recession). Oracle has been less successful to this end in the past, with its viscerally bad production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist earlier this season. What The Mother portends is that the little-theater-that-could really can, and often does, but that its success is wildly bolstered by Truax’s involvement in any given production. With The Mother, this little Public Access theater is at its best, and can easily contend with the best of Chicago. No, scratch that; The Mother is the best that Chicago theater has to offer right now.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Oracle's THE MOTHER

photos by Eleanor Kahn and Ben Fuchsen

The Mother
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N Broadway
scheduled to end on May 25, 2013
tickets are pay-what-you-want
make reservations at Public Access Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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