The Incident | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

THE INCIDENT, Next Theatre Company. One of the most harrowing movies I've ever seen is The Incident, by director Larry Peerce and screenwriter Nicholas Baehr. This 1967 film--a gritty, documentary-style study of urban angst--starred newcomers Martin Sheen and Tony Musante as two hopped-up thugs who terrorize the passengers on a New York subway. Trying to avoid a confrontation with their tormentors exposes the riders' emotional weaknesses and stirs up conflicts among them; finally a disabled soldier (Beau Bridges) takes a stand against the knife-wielding toughs.

Director Kate Buckley's stage version of Baehr's story captures much of the movie's visceral excitement and claustrophobia. The action has been moved to the mid-70s (there's a poster for The Exorcist on the train's wall), and set designer Matthew J. York evokes the era with a perfectly grungy subway car covered with graffiti; Jaymi Lee Smith's lighting and Lindsay Jones's sound design intensify the sense of being trapped in an underground nightmare.

But despite the efforts of a superb ensemble (among them Steve Key as the GI and Daniel Brennan and Brad C. Light as the punks), the characters remain dated stereotypes--the kvetchy old Jew, the furtive young fag, the shit-kicking southerner, the ball-busting bitch, etc. Ultimately the show comes off more as an impressive demonstration of stagecraft than as a convincing illustration of Baehr's theme: the need for people (and nations) to defy rather than try to appease a common enemy.

--Albert Williams

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