The Cocktail Party | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Cocktail Party

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T.S. Eliot's seldom produced 1950 Tony winner delivers a bracingly intelligent combination of Noel Coward-like repartee, philosophical paradoxes, and deep-dish ponderings on identity, the pitfalls of marriage, and the possibility of change. In the manner of Frank Capra, the story revolves around three semicelestial "guardians" who help three failing souls find salvation in either resignation ("making the best of a bad lot") or transcendence through martyrdom. Jennifer Shook's revival for Caffeine Theatre is perfectly tuned, persuasive even when Eliot's aphoristic dialogue isn't. Seldom succumbing to mannered melodrama, the seven performances are crisp, clear, and charming. Despite Eliot's recondite religious themes and sometimes enigmatic mandarin style, this 160-minute verse drama feels fresh. Through 4/23: Thu-Sat 3 PM, Sun 3 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio, 2936 N. Southport, 312-902-1500, $12-$15, industry nights Thu.

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