Patriots | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Take a dozen rolls of masking tape, a giant piece of butcher paper in the shape of the United States, a couple reams of 8 1/2 by 11, a few envelopes and pens, and six or so oranges. Add seven committed performers and a ton of historical detail--carefully cut and pasted and engagingly presented--and you've got the Neo-Futurists' thought-provoking, moving meditation on what it means to love your country, a hot-button topic they clarify by considering the roles played by imagination, belief, and accident. Focusing on the lives of Walt Whitman and Strom Thurmond, two Americans whose byzantine moral systems were arguably hypocritical, the performers and director Chloe Johnston consider the differences between personal and public pronouncements, between acknowledged and forbidden loves, between professed care and unreasoned contempt for others. The Whitman half is more complicated and more stirring--Thurmond's blatant racial hypocrisy makes him both an easy target and an impenetrable mystery. But the differences between the two figures are what illuminate patriotism's many facets in this stripped-down hour-long show, which pokes the conscience without ever once telling you what to think. Structured like a musical composition, with an opening theme and variations, the piece begins with a question and ends with a challenge. Take it. Through 5/14: Thu-Sat 8 PM. Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland, 773-275-5255. $10-$15; "pay what you can" Thu.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.

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