Top Girls | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Top Girls

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Top Girls, Remy Bumppo, at Victory Gardens Theater. Caryl Churchill's 1982 feminist masterpiece has lost none of its scalding wit, lapidary genius, and eviscerating insight. And James Bohnen's staging for Remy Bumppo, featuring one of the strongest casts I've seen all year, should not be missed. The brilliant first scene--a fantasia in which high-flying corporate princess Marlene (a razor-sharp Tracy Michelle Arnold) entertains five historical female figures at a dinner party--meshes beautifully with the grim gender and class struggles of the ensuing realistic episodes. But it's the last scene that packs the biggest wallop, sorrowfully excavating the relationship between Thatcher-worshiping Marlene and her beaten-down, bitter working-class sister (Annabel Armour), who's raised Marlene's troubled daughter, Angie, as her own.

The personal and political perform a tragic pas de deux in this exploration of the two sisters' equally empty lives, and Arnold's and Armour's performances are so thoroughly grounded and compelling that it's almost painful to watch them. Susan Bennett shines throughout, in the first scene as the hilariously monosyllabic Dull Gret (a peasant who fought the devils in hell in a famous Brueghel painting) and then as the frustrated adolescent Angie, doomed at 16. Tim Morrison's smartly designed set and Judith Lundberg's period costumes (note the imposing shoulder pads on Marlene's power suits) also deserve high praise. This production gives a sharp dig in the ribs to anyone who buys the "you've come a long way, baby" tripe.

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