The Visit | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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THE VISIT, Clock Productions, at National Pastime Theater. Friedrich DŸrrenmatt set his 1956 play The Visit in the impoverished town of Guellen (which means "manure"), where all the factories have been closed for years. With no jobs to be had, the town's citizens bank on the generosity of Guellen native and recent billionaire Claire Zachanassian, who returns promising to bequeath a fortune to the town--so long as someone kills the well-loved Mr. Schill, who betrayed her in her youth.

The dynamics are simple: between the extremes of abject poverty and grotesque wealth, the ideals of Western humanism are stretched to the breaking point. Despite the obvious, parablelike setup, however, director Debra Hatchett reads the play entirely wrong, opening with a long, stylized scene of factory workers droning away like automatons--notwithstanding the town's full unemployment. Hatchett seems to think The Visit is about the struggle of the workingman; she even says as much in her program note.

But given this conceptually jumbled, theatrically inert evening, I'm not sure anyone in Clock Productions has read the play all the way through. Two and a half hours of clumsy staging, indiscriminate anachronisms, and bewildered performances (with the exception of Lily Shaw, deliciously heartless as Claire) are enough to make any modern masterpiece opaque. Sadly, Hatchett has done a job worthy of her name. --Justin Hayford

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