Artist Descending a Staircase | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Artist Descending a Staircase


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ARTIST DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, Broutil & Frothingham Productions, at the Theatre Building. I've seen Tom Stoppard's play three times--once in its original production in London's West End--and the only production that really moved me was the one at Body Politic a decade or so ago. This staging is a lot like the original: beautiful, cerebral, and very cold.

The play is about three glib modern artists, now in their late 70s, and the blind woman, Sophie, they met and fell in love with in their 20s. Written as a radio play first broadcast in 1972, it works best with your eyes closed. That way you can fully appreciate Stoppard's wit and "see" the artists the way Sophie does. With eyes open, the play seems rather static and talky. It doesn't help that Stoppard's characters have an unnerving habit of describing everything they're doing. And the play's structure--every scene leaps back from 1972 to 1914--seems too clever by half.

All is forgiven if the director finds the right Sophie. Terry McCabe, however, has settled for a merely OK one. Cameron Feagin has so little chemistry with her male costars that we never believe she loves them, they love her, or that 50 years after her untimely death they will still be brooding about her. Without this center, the play seems just another of Stoppard's barren academic exercises.

--Jack Helbig

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