In Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust, a small-town Hoosier goes in search of lost time | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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In Charlie Johnson Reads All of Proust, a small-town Hoosier goes in search of lost time

Cornmeal mush is his madeleine.


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Chicago playwright Amy Crider creates a tidy Proustian universe in this evening-length monologue, delivered by a 75-year-old small-town Hoosier named Charlie Johnson. He appears before us because he once dipped a madeleine in his coffee, whereupon his uppity daughter-in-law Patricia, witnessing this seemingly inconsequential act, promptly offered a condescending minilecture on Remembrance of Things Past. Determined to prove he's no rube (or at least less of one than Patricia suspects), he sets out to read all seven volumes, but in short order gets sucked into his own search for lost time when the taste of cornmeal mush (his madeleine, as it were) evokes consequential memories of his rural Indiana boyhood.

Johnson imagines himself an anti-Proust, devoted to plain talk, hard work, and "doing right." While performer Jeff Broitman is largely wrong for the part—he's more nebbishy east-coast intellectual than salt-of-the-earth midwesterner, and he looks three decades shy of 75—his grounded deliberation keeps the script's complex narrative in sharp focus. Although at times he proceeds at such a cautious pace the show feels more like a recitation than a conversation, he finds disarming vulnerability in the play's emotional climax, as Johnson realizes his life turned out happy primarily because his wife suffered a horrible trauma.

Crider overshoots her landing, wandering for ten minutes or so after the satisfying conclusion of Johnson's sobering revelation. But the nourishment in her stream-of-consciousness storytelling makes me want to tackle Proust all over again—something I never thought I'd say.   v

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