Sailing to Byzantium | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sailing to Byzantium

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Sandra Deer's delicious soap opera, receiving its Chicago premiere from Caffeine Theatre, is set during the Easter uprising of 1916, but it has less to do with the Troubles than with the troubles of the heart. The title comes from a Yeats poem about the elderly transcending the pleasures of the flesh, but here an aging Yeats does anything but: he continues his unrequited love for Maud Gonne while novelist Olivia Shakespear and her niece pine for him in vain. Meanwhile Shakespear's daughter badgers her mother for permission to marry Yeats's American friend Ezra Pound, who isn't yet a fascist but already knows that the universe revolves around him. Ron Butts is an excellent Yeats, at once venerable and passionately young, and he gets strong support, particularly from Maren Robinson as the niece. As Pound, though, David Dastmalchian is callow and mannered rather than rugged, while Alison Dornheggen as his lover seems merely spoiled and self-willed; these performances distract from but don't destroy the overall romantic feel. Andrew Hansen's music adds to the piece's authenticity, and Jennifer Shook's direction is serviceable, efficiently moving seven outsize characters around a studio stage the size of a living room. a Through 10/10: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 773-561-7611, $12-$15.

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