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1,001 Afternoons in Chicago


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1,001 AFTERNOONS IN CHICAGO, Live Bait Theatrical Company and Prop Theatre Group, at the Firehouse. Paul Peditto paints a broad canvas in this 150-minute evocation of Chicago roaring in the 20s. Based on the daily column Ben Hecht wrote for the Chicago Daily News, this "living newspaper" reveals the young newshound in 1921, chronicling the heartbreak and headaches of an up-for-grabs town.

Peditto's script is as busy as Mary Griswold's cityscape. We see Hecht pursuing scoops at any price and learning from his womanizing mentor Sherwood Anderson, who's embarked on a doomed affair with a Clark Street whore (an affecting Natasha Lowe). Hecht covers jazz musicians persecuted by reformers, a "devil baby" born at Hull House, a Polish mother whose son dies a horrible death, a recruiter for the dada anti-art movement, and a depressed knife thrower whose uncaring wife has grown perilously fat. Most remarkable are Hecht's death-row interviews with two killers, one white and one black, followed by a double-execution number in which both start singing before they swing. Cynical newspaper patter anticipates Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page, though its flippancy is darkened by Hecht's despair over whether the pain he sees will come across in print.

It comes across onstage, though Peditto's rapid-fire storytelling (with generous interludes of period music) turns J.R. Sullivan's staging into a one-ring circus: David Bryson as Hecht covers more ground than a midwest snowfall. There's a lot--perhaps too much--to like here, but if you're crazy about Chicago or the 20s, this is the bees' knees. --Lawrence Bommer

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