(l-r) Kiayla Jackson and Maurice Demus. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
As Chicago buckles down for another cold stretch, WINTERSET by Griffin Theatre seems like a well-partnered choice. Gritty Americana, poverty-stricken neighborhoods, crimes against individuals and humanity. Yet, the timeliness of this production does little to provide much else- be it topical relevance, emotional clarity or dare we ask, some break from the ennui.
Based on a 1920’s murder, the script follows the story of young Mio, out to find the true culprit of a crime for which his father was executed, only to allow himself to be distracted by a budding love story between him and the sister of a person of interest in his father’s case. The plot seems simple enough but delivered in meandering verse; the production teeters between verbose and boring: characters do not reach an authentic emotional state, and the action feels contrived, at best. Enduring a two and half hour play with stilted language and struggling performances is a lot to ask for from an audience. Director Jonathan Berry could have profited from some editing of Anderson’s work and a clear version of why it’s important to do this production right now. Otherwise, we spend our time admiring the effort that must have gone in to put up Joe Schermoly’s excellent set and hoping that productions such as these are best kept for collegiate experiences. Especially bothersome were the instances of unauthentic cigarette smoking, the lack of anyone on stage feeling cold even through howling winds, and the introduction of a violin prop by the playwright that goes absolutely nowhere.
Maxwell Anderson has been quoted to say that: “The essence of a tragedy, or even of a serious play, is the spiritual awakening, or regeneration, of the hero.” But he, himself, doesn’t heed his advice when penning WINTERSET. His hero remains unmoved as the last verse is spoken. The lights grow dim; darkness swallows the stage and an absent violin plays in the air. After two and half hours, stepping out into the cold Chicago streets feels welcoming and refreshing.
December 5th, 2016