Street Scene | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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STREET SCENE, Artistic Home. Elmer Rice's naturalistic drama was praised at its premiere in 1929 for its candid views of social tensions in New York's slums. If today its dialogue seems stilted and its characterizations hackneyed, the plight of young lovers struggling to escape a world of poverty, prejudice, and violence has lost none of its appeal. Like its prototype, Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, the narrative is dominated by the collective imperative, however. This production opens with the neighborhood residents sitting at their windows or lounging on a stoop in the summer heat. Privacy is nonexistent: every event--birth, courtship, marriage, illness, infidelity--is scrutinized by immigrant communities capable of both swift condemnation and surprising compassion.

Sustaining the necessary ensemble dynamic through three acts requires actorly concentration not often found on the storefront circuit. But under Kathy Scambiatterra's direction, the 19 Artistic Home cast members never stumble under the weight of their occasionally melodramatic text. And thanks to dialect coach Eva Breneman, the characters' many foreign and regional accents are distinct at all times, making for a richly textured portrait of domestic life in the early 20th century.

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