Oklahoma! throws a bright, golden haze over history | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Oklahoma! throws a bright, golden haze over history

But it’s sweet, sweet nostalgia porn.


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Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear," went the intro toThe Lone Ranger radio and TV shows. Marriott Theatre's revival of Oklahoma! might as well start with the same line. Interested in a realistic depiction of life in the Sooner State on the eve of its 1907 admission to the union? One that alludes to ugly truths about the way Native Americans were treated? One that so much as features a Native American? Go see August: Osage County. Oklahoma! sticks as close to the historical record as, say, a serial about a masked Texas Ranger who rides around on a white horse fighting bad guys with the help of his trusty sidekick, Tonto.

Yes, it's nostalgia porn. It was nostalgia porn back when it premiered in 1943. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote it that way, to help World War II-era American audiences understand what we were fighting for. Curly the cowpoke has an almost Thoreauvian appreciation for the bright golden haze on the meadow. He's stuck on strong, sassy farm girl Laurey and defends her when she's stalked by Jud the hired man, whose evil is implicit in his lack of connection to the clean natural world. Their battle takes place on an archetypal level, with no room for ambivalence or inconvenient facts. I sat through Aaron Thielen's solid, respectful production fully aware of the stories that weren't being told—but enthralled by the one that was: by its humor, its sense of hope, and the bone-deep sweetness of its classic score.   v

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