The Dresser | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ronald Harwood's seriocomic portrait of an aging Shakespearean star during World War II is a loving but unsentimental elegy for a long-gone way of life and style of theater. It's also catnip for actors, and director Amy Morton's cast makes the most of it. John Mahoney stars as Sir, a grand old ham forcing himself through one more turn as King Lear. Tracy Letts is Sir's dresser, Norman--valet, coach, sparring partner, and nanny rolled into one. Struggling with exhaustion, failing memory, and premonitions of his own death, Sir nonetheless carries on, defying the Nazi blitz to bring the Bard to provincial audiences. Harwood's witty, well-observed script honors Sir's spirit while acknowledging his egotism, lechery, and insensitivity to those who dedicate their lives to his work. Mahoney's Sir is haggard and heroic, frail and feisty, insufferable and irresistible. Letts is wonderful as the prissy Norman, sucking brandy from a hip flask to steel himself for his behind-the-scenes servitude. Equally good are Peggy Roeder as the starchy stage manager secretly in love with Sir and Mike Nussbaum as a bit player suddenly forced into a major role. Santo Loquasto's bi-level set beautifully re-creates a decaying provincial theater, where the most gripping drama takes place offstage. a Through 11/14: Tue-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 3 and 7:30 PM. Wed 10/27-11/10, 2 and 7:30 PM. Sun 10/31-11/14, 3 PM only. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, downstairs theater, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650 (TTY 312-335-3830), $42-$60, rush tickets available.

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

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