The Vortex | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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THE VORTEX, Boxer Rebellion Theater. Best known today for such racy comedies as Design for Living and Private Lives, Noel Coward actually made his name with this once shocking 1924 drama. Nicky Lancaster--a sexually ambivalent, coke-snorting young pianist--summons up the courage to confront his vain, flamboyant mother with her parental failings, most notably her adulterous affairs with men half her age. He declares in the oedipally charged climax, a melodramatic rehash of the mother-son bedroom scene from Hamlet, that Florence Lancaster gave her son everything he wanted materially but nothing he needed emotionally.

Though dated, this Coward curiosity is nonetheless relevant in isolating neglectful parenting as a cause of drug abuse. But Michael S. Pieper's staging is undermined by the casting. With mediocre performers in the secondary parts, the show depends on the actors playing Nicky (a role originated by Coward) and Florence. Christopher McLinden's epicene, English-schoolboy good looks are perfect, but he never rises above pouting petulance. And though Angela Bullard is dynamic and creative, she looks nothing like the elegant fading beauty Coward intended. Instead she uncannily recalls Hyacinth Bucket, the plump, dithery social climber in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. Pieper could have used the disconnect between character and performer as an ironic distancing device, but played straight it's simply wrong.

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