The Palmer Raids: A Theatrical Construction | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Palmer Raids: A Theatrical Construction


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Since its explosive 1995 debut in Doorslam, Plasticene has done things ass-backward. Rather than building their physical theater pieces from stories, characters, themes, or even ideas, director Dexter Bullard and his tight-knit ensemble have started with stuff--luggage, folding tables, doors, encyclopedias--and messed around until they found interesting things to do with it. The resulting work was typically arresting, lyrical, and disjointed--at times frustratingly so. Last year the company took a risk and threw away their signature technique. With The Palmer Raids: A Theatrical Construction the troupe relied on a slice of history for their inspiration: a rash of terrorist bombings in New York and Washington in 1919. Hacking a decided narrative path through a jungle of historical documents, they came up with the most rigorous, entertaining, and cogent work they'd yet produced. The ensemble's tightly choreographed physical routines help amplify the political and moral chaos caused by the bombings, while their thoughtful readings of newspaper clippings, court testimony, and personal letters add layers of psychological complexity. The work's current relevance is unmistakable; after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was nearly killed by a bomb blast, he sanctioned the incarceration of some 5,000 foreign nationals, declared a war on anarchists, and otherwise attacked civil liberties on a scale that would make John Ashcroft proud. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, 773-722-5463. Through April 26: Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 10 PM; Sundays, 4 PM. $15.

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