The Resurrectionists | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Resurrectionists

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THE RESURRECTIONISTS, Boxer Rebellion Theater. You couldn't ask for better material than the sordid saga of William Burke and William Hare, grave robbers in Edinburgh in the 1820s who provided cadavers to renegade anatomist Robert Knox, a man who defied laws against human dissection in the name of scientific progress. A well-timed cholera epidemic gave all three men plenty of business, but when that source ran dry, Burke and Hare turned to murder.

In his full-length play The Resurrectionists, Boxer Rebellion artistic director Steven Young delivers a highly condensed and fictionalized account of the story, rendered in such broad strokes and cluttered with so many subplots that it feels sketchy and shapeless. Young rarely dramatizes his characters' motivations, presenting lots of carnage but leaving largely unexamined the complex forces that drove Burke and Hare to their notorious spree, and there's only a perfunctory narrative trajectory.

Such fundamental flaws would sink most other productions. But Young's scenes are compelling even if they don't add up to a play. He's also an inventive director with a spirited cast. Leading the pack is Jamie Axtell as Hare, so pathetic and desperate he seems as dangerous as a gravely wounded animal. Together Young and company manage to create a volatile and disturbing piece of theater--imagine what they could have accomplished with a story.

--Justin Hayford

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