The Sad Ballad of Johnny Reb and His Beautiful Wife Cecile | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

The Sad Ballad of Johnny Reb and His Beautiful Wife Cecile


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


The Sad Ballad of Johnny Reb and His Beautiful Wife Cecile, Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe.

A year ago I would have called Scott Turner's play about a hate-filled working stiff a piece of white middle-class paranoia that exaggerates the most eccentric views of the right-wing fringe: its romantic notions about states' rights, its nostalgia for the antebellum south, its complete distrust of everything federal, even federal highways. But that was before Oklahoma City, the militia-movement hearings, and Ruby Ridge made it clear how many odd and dangerous notions are slithering around the backwaters of America. Now I'm almost prepared to believe that the Chicago playwright's chilling portrait of a gun-toting, wife-abusing loser gone feral is a documentary.

An electrified Turner--wearing a buzz cut, a sleeveless T-shirt, and shit-kicking snakeskin boots--struts and quivers and growls like some Pentecostal preacher as he recounts Johnny Reb's descent into hell in pursuit of his fleeing wife. Turner has had a habit of taking breathtakingly simple ideas--like setting the story of Abraham in hillbilly country--and marring them with experimentation or gimmicky intellectualizing. Here he keeps his story clean and strong, illustrating the truth of William Carlos Williams's line "The pure products of America go crazy."

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →