Chicago Theater Review: SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND (Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 26, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

PREHISTORIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE PRESENT

Meighan-Gerachis-and-Laura-T.-Fisher in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND at Theater Wit.Extended until mid-May, Theater Wit’s Midwest debut of Madeleine George’s sharp new show has clearly touched hearts and nerves. It’s no secret: Full of the quirky, zany, and daffy characters that constitute the “new normal,” it’s a relationship drama with enough metaphor-mongering and symbol-serving to reflect whatever the viewer may desire.

At the same time, the playwright–judging from Jeremy Wechsler’s painstaking staging–really cares for these downhome characters caught up in a local scandal. The strange title, Seven Homeless Mammals Wander New England, refers to the plight of the stuffed prehistoric mammals housed in the Pratt Museum, a much-loved institution on this unnamed New England campus. Alas, the university intends to “renovate” this literally “out of date” building by destroying it and replacing it with a culturally-empty freshman dorm. The town is in an uproar: Harsh letters condemn this illusion of “progress” as cultural vandalism, the product of a mayfly mentality that repudiates the past as if we only Susaan Jamshidi in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND at Theater Wit.belong to and live in the moment.

The brouhaha is addressed (as is the audience) by the Caretaker (Steve Herson), a crusty New England lover of the land who embodies the village’s rage against academic arrogance. Adding to the fracas are separate, sardonic scenes straight out of A Night at the Museum: Two figures of prehistoric hunters and gatherers in the museum’s diorama (Susaan Jamshidi and Casey Searles) appear to comment on our contemporary craziness, tersely repeating the silly stuff they hear from the occasional visitors who gaze into their artificial antiquity

Alas, at play’s end the fate of the museum and the protesters defending it remains frustratingly unresolved because, it’s clear, it’s just a ploy: The playwright’s interests lie elsewhere.

Kristen-Magee-and-Laura-T.-Fisher in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND at Theater Wit.The soul of the show is the very unstable threesome created when Dean Cynthia Wreen (Penelope Walker) invites her ex-lover Greer (Laura T. Fisher), now dying of cancer, to move in with her and her much younger girlfriend Andromeda (Kristen Magee). The action, such as it is, depicts the sexual rivalries and domestic anguish that arise as the women struggle to divide their love in dramatically different ways than they ever have before.

Steve-Herson-and-Meighan-Gerachis in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND at Theater Wit.Here the play, like Joe Schermoly’s wonderfully detailed set, finally proves the power of putting the right people in the right place. Walker’s dean is a complex creation. She plays tactical games with the college that she barely runs, but at home Wreen is very believably torn between two lovers. A New Age natural, Magee’s Andromeda is bracingly naïve and totally transient; she also presents the earnestness and openness that youth should keep for as long as it can. In contrast, Fisher’s marvelous and doomed Greer is sarcastic and stoic as she observes, then finally treasures, this work in progress called Andromeda and Wreen, the latter being a needy authority figure who, we hope, will be there at Greer’s imminent end.

Susaan-Jamshidi-and-Casey-Searles in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND at Theater Wit.Of course, the lesbian lovers are inevitably drawn into the museum debacle, instantly defining themselves by their reactions to this endangered humanism. But George’s true interest lies in how unexpectedly good they can be to and for each other—illustrated in a final eccentric healing ceremony. In 140 minutes, this brilliant trio honors George’s often-inspired dialogue (especially about the dubious charms of irrelevance). Their complicated interactions save Seven Homeless Mammoths from what could be a too-wee preciosity.

photos by Charles Osgood

Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 3 pm
scheduled to end on May 17, 2014
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit www.TheaterWit.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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