Chicago Theater Review: WHAT OF THE NIGHT? (Cor Theater and Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 13, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


Ambition should be made of smarter stuff. Nearly three hours of unfocused agitation, What of the Night? begs its own incoherent question. It’s not the night that’s at stake in María Irene Fornés’s four-play epic. It’s the well-being of an audience who, perplexed, provoked but never enlightened, endure a quartet of one-acts that never deliver interesting goods. Sprawling from 1938 to an apocalyptic future, they progressively test our interest, patience, posteriors, and finally rationality.

Two theaters—Stage Left and Cor—have revived this 1990 Pulitzer finalist at Theater Wit for reasons that they can’t share. Surrounded by graffiti-ridden walls, Carlos Murillo’s pains-giving staging uses 13 excellent actors to depict extremes of poverty and wealth, equal menaces as they distort, corrupt and seduce a fractured family.

Four barely interconnected one-acts—“Nadine,” “Springtime,” “Lust,” “Hunger”—hint at the core emotions embedded in each. But, marred by utterly arbitrary action and dumbed down by childish dialogue, they subtract rather than add up, leaving us pondering the two worst words to pursue a play: “So what?,” not Fornés’s title, is the only relevant inquiry.

The plots could suck a synopsis as a black hole swallows an asteroid. Best to be brief: “Nadine” (1938) depicts Nadine (Tosha Fowler) and her children Rainbow (Kathyrn Acosta) and Charlie (Casey Morris) and Charlie’s 14-year-old wife Birdie (Dionne Addai). To survive they scrounge, indulge in petty thievery, and out maneuver each other for pointless profiteering.

In the comparatively benign “Springtime” (1958) we meet the last sibling Ray (Nelson Rodriguez). He’s the third angle in a somewhat affecting lesbian love affair between a very ill Rainbow and her devoted and protective lover Greta (Allyce Torres). She steals Ray’s watch and inevitably falls under his malign dominance.

As the title suggests, “Lust” (1968-1983) depicts ugly couplings by rich folks. It all but revels in the cruelty of its characters: Now prosperous, Ray believes that humans are robots too stupid to know their slavery and that only animals have dignity and worth. He proceeds to torment the too-forgiving Helena (Kate Black-Spence) and toady to her father and his business partner Joseph (Stephen Loch) whom he finally fleeces.

Finally, and least comprehensible, “Hunger” (a dystopian future following an economic disaster) returns the principals to squalor and struggle as they brokenly try to recall their past and even each other. Once more they scheme to procure rations, heal a broken arm, or just preserve their sanity.

So does the audience. Whatever distinctions Fornés makes between literal and emotional hunger, unearned poverty and equally undeserved prosperity, and the family as an economic enclave or a sexual quagmire are lost in this 175-minute trek through trivia.

By then the audience has crammed itself through a crash course in the haphazards, caprices, and ridiculous randomness of the quartet’s storyline, dialogue, settings, and situations. These two acts are too inept even to suggest whatever good intentions sparked Fornés to pen this piece or two excellent theaters to mount it. Anyway, motivation couldn’t matter less when What of the Night? is as much a confounding bore as a rhetorical question.

photos by Ian McLaren

What of the Night?
Cor Theater and Stage Left Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on February 12, 2017
for tickets, call 773.975.8150
or visit Cor or Stage Left

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