The Family of Mann | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Family of Mann

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The Family of Mann, BackStage Theatre Company, at the Cornelia Arts Building. Belinda is a young PhD who gives up teaching the Victorian novel in order to write for television. After all, she reasons, that's what Dickens would be doing if he were alive today. She goes to Hollywood and lands a job working on a sitcom. The executive producer welcomes her with a speech about family, fun, decency, and making a difference--all of which he favors.

Turns out he's a big liar. This autobiographical play by Theresa Rebeck narrates Belinda's rude awakening. It seems there are some very ambitious people in network television who will go so far as to betray others to advance their own careers. Yes, and sitcom writers who will sometimes sacrifice emotional truth for the sake of an easy joke. And bosses who value loyalty over honesty. And humiliate their inferiors. And promote sexism. And even fail to practice the family ideals espoused by the show they've been entrusted to produce. These are crushing revelations to Belinda, who likes to rhapsodize about TV as the new campfire.

But 42 years after Newton Minow's "vast wasteland" speech, they may seem self-evident to the rest of us. And having to spend two hours watching someone learn what she should've known all along is plain tedious. Aside from an energetic cast, the only thing interesting about The Family of Mann is how Rebeck uses it to settle old scores.

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