Hippolytus | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Hippolytus, Slimtack Theatre Company, at the Side Studio. Tragedy tends to be big. And with the long solo speeches and emphasis on emotional declamation over intellectual debate in Euripides' Hippolytus, an even larger universe is required if we're to take seriously the characters' cataclysmic passions: Phaedra, wife of Theseus, falls in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. The challenge faced by Slimtack director Adam Webster is his classroom-size storefront space. Should his actors play at television-studio level, reducing the story to tabloid melodrama, or should they respond to the scale of the text and risk making playgoers less than a yard away uncomfortable?

As it turns out, they do both. The early scenes in Webster's tidy 60-minute adaptation reflect an intimate performer-audience relationship, with Phaedra (the charismatic Helen Manasses) pleading her case to us at conversational volume and the three-woman chorus making full eye contact with front-row spectators. Just when we've reconciled ourselves to these dimensions, Roger Lentz roars onstage awash in coliseum-size rage and horror for a marathon portrayal of Theseus, forcing everybody else to adopt a similarly heroic delivery. Never exceeding the aural limits of the space but attaining the necessary grandeur is not an easy trick to pull off, yet Slimtack manages it, sending everyone home happy.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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