Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...? | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...?

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...?, Next Theatre Company. Nearly a half century after the House Un-American Activities Committee received testimony, the question we ask is not which Americans were or had ever been communists--in the decades immediately following the Russian czar's overthrow, many U.S. citizens expressed their support for the Marxists. Nor is the question whether the Red Menace was as formidable a threat as our leaders feared--our country had been attacked only a few years earlier and had good reason to be vigilant against overseas enemies. No, the controversy that sparks debates today is whether any end could have justified the means employed by the government at that time.

This Next Theatre production of Eric Bentley's documentary play, much of it excerpted from court records, editorializes rather than explores, however, offering an array of comic-book villains to boo and larger-than-life heroes to cheer. A modicum of intellectual distance is provided by having all 31 roles played by 13 actors, who effect protean changes with minimal props and subtle shifts in body language. They also deliver their propagandistic declarations with such passion and conviction that playgoers leave the theater unanimous in their determination to defend the rights of all citizens--with whom they sympathize.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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