Chicago Theater Review: TYRANT (Sideshow Theatre Company at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 1, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

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A world premiere from Sideshow Theatre Company, this curious and lengthy offering feels as familiar as it is threatening. In 145 minutes Kathleen Ackerley (who also co-directs) imagines a very ingrown world within a highly structured system: Basically, Tyrant (the title referring not to a dictator but to a rich man’s internal compulsions) extrapolates current crises to an even more unfair future. A year from now Congress has ended homelessness by declaring house-deprived Americans to be Clare O'Connor, Matt Fletcher and Andy Lutz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere of TYRANT, by Kathleen Akerley, co-directed by Kathleen Akerley and Megan A. Smithdependent wards of the state, internal refugees who must be trained to work for wealthy “padres” or patrons by the huge Rectification Center (clearly here the 1%  have increased their ill-gotten wealth by reinventing feudalism and serfdom.)

Of course, these distressed souls can also emigrate or join the army. Most choose indentured servitude, following a kind of confessional therapy (worthy of a Communist Chinese “reintegration” camp). Trained to be useful even if abode-less, they enter service to successful “landed” citizens: They become “actualized”—certified free of unhelpful memories of happier times when they once held actual addresses. If they regress, therapy and retraining will “recycle” them.

Clare O'Connor, Matt Fletcher and Andy Lutz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere of TYRANT, by Kathleen Akerley, co-directed by Akerley and Megan A. Smith.Mostly the process works all too smoothly (like similar dystopias in 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World that worked to remake human nature). But in Tyrant, set in 2035, a patronizing “padre” who insists on being called by his name Martin (Matt Fletcher in dramatic freefall) pushes the system too far as he enjoys deep-tissue massages from his young “rectifees.” These are Leon (Andy Lutz), a meek acolyte trained to be self-effacing, and his more curious semi-slave Regina (Clare O’Connor), a girl whose desire to possess a teapot turns the household upside down. She sees her massage therapy as “magic,” releasing Martin to imagine what he might do to them if he could finally act with impunity.

As Martin negotiates a tangled course among all the regulations, safeguards, and “fair play” rules meant to preserve the self-esteem of these second-class citizens, he finds himself, like Winston in 1984, increasingly succumbing to his visions. In fact, Clare O'Connor and Andy Lutz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere of TYRANT, by Kathleen Akerley, co-directed by Kathleen Akerley and Megan A. Smith.he’s no more “anchored to the world” (as he quotes from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel) than his “rectifees.”

A humorless therapist-rectifee (Karie Miller) probes him for any possible departures from the elaborate codes spelled out by the Rectification Act. Martin’s psychologist boss Matthew (Paige Smith) grows wary of Martin’s potential abuses of ownership. Though threats of violence hang unspoken over the (lack of) action, it’s only in a final, ugly dereliction of duty that we see just how little this two-tiered America has really changed the beast that calls itself human.

Unfortunately, despite an efficient presentation by Akerley and co-director Megan A. Smith, Tyrant takes a very un-straightforward path to that forced breaking point. Akerley is a tad too fascinated with the intricately rewired, highly prickly society that she presents in telling details. The dialogue, full of catchphrases and circumlocutions, takes on a gnomic, cryptic and elliptical patina. No doubt it’s true Clare O'Connor, Matt Fletcher and Andy Lutz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere of TYRANT, by Kathleen Akerley, co-directed by Kathleen Akerley and Megan A. Smith.to these times but it prevents anything even vaguely raw or real from happening until the worst breaks through in the bitter end.

Lutz and O’Connor make winsome survivors, forced into childish servility and only vaguely recalling anything as old-fashioned as dignity or self-respect. Representing this proprietary and very un-United States, Smith and Miller present the smooth-faced impassivity of authority figures everywhere and anytime. Caught between, Fletcher’s elaborately corrupted Martin discovers just why Regina tells him “You can’t stand the personal.” In this rigid realm it’s not a nice thing to know.

photos by Jonathan L. Green

Tyrant
Sideshow Theatre Company
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on June 29, 2014
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit www.theaterwit.org

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

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