The Hothouse | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Hothouse


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The Hothouse, Steep Theatre Company. Begun in 1958, then abandoned for 21 years, Harold Pinter's The Hothouse resembles both his early and his more recent work. Like the early and best plays--The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter, The Homecoming--this one displays plenty of the playwright's famous dialogue: laconic on the surface but seething with repressed rage. Unfortunately, as in other, later works, Pinter sacrifices a degree of subtlety, grace, and drama to make his political message clear, using a badly mismanaged (perhaps intentionally) insane asylum to skewer totalitarian governments and to show how power corrupts.

It's hard to dispute Pinter's message, but it's also hard not to notice that the play is much less menacing--and satisfying--than, say, The Birthday Party, which touches on torture, coercion, and misused authority without making them the focus. Still, under the direction of Michael Rice, the folks at Steep Theatre do a great job, squeezing all the drama they can out of the script. Even more impressive, they capture the rhythms of the dialogue without over- or underplaying their parts. Jim Poole is nearly perfect as Roote, the morally bankrupt stuffed shirt who runs the asylum, as is Alex Gillmor as Roote's resentful rodentlike assistant. Jennifer Paige delivers a virtuoso performance as one of Pinter's trademark ballbusters, seductive one minute, cruel and cold the next.

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