American Voices | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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American Voices, Piven Theatre. A married couple have their loyalties tested by a smooth-talking stranger while another couple face the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy. Two waiters speculate about their suicidal expatriate customer. A husband finds himself inexplicably jealous of his wife's disabled gentleman friend. In the city, a young man sees God in a street-corner sax player, and in the country, a younger one unwittingly comes of age.

These are some of the characters we meet in American Voices, Piven Theatre's six adaptations of stories by Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Zora Neale Hurston, Warren Leight, and Elizabeth Gilbert. The hazard with such makeovers is a tendency for the performance to dominate the text. Indeed, Byrne Piven's direction of Gilbert's "The Many Things That Denny Brown Did Not Know (Age Fifteen)" is so cluttered with visual, aural, and kinetic elements that we end up as befuddled as the title character.

Those enduring this opening selection are rewarded by Paul Dunckel's joyful spoken-jazz interpretation of Leight's "Jaguar Jesus" and Thom Cox's adaptation of Carver's "Cathedral," performed by the virtuoso trio of Jake Mailey, Marcia Reinhard, and Kenn E. Head. Under Cox's direction, they not only do ample justice to Carver's richly detailed prose but create vivid personalities, communicating a story steeped in warmth and humor.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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