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“The Author” is a bold feminist take on the theater itself.


Can all games be reviewed? On the face of it, yes, of course you will say. But there is one type of theater writing that I would call clever self-preservation.

Such plays are typically about the theater itself, as in the British play “The Writer,” by Ella Hickson, which was watched at the height of the #MeToo movement at London’s Almeida Theater in 2018 and is now seen with her gloves tied. For a US premiere at Chicago’s Steep Theater under the direction of Georgette Verdin.

A feminist playwright, Hickson writes about being a feminist playwright what she sees as an oppressive, patriarchal industry full of sleazy, hypocritical, watchdog men. They are teachers, art directors, and yes, critics with their sexist dictates. It begins with a scathing critique of a character whose identity has subtly changed: Is this a drama student? Audience in a small theater? Is this an actress? Is this someone returning to confront an abuser? All of the above?

You keep guessing when Hickson uses Mametian techniques upside down.

But then, in a sudden shift, he broadens his critique to include the entire culture industry, showing how even seemingly supportive men become accomplices and accept whenever and wherever they press, say, the woman in their life to compromise their own creative identity. . That’s easy movie money. And then it expands it further. The “author” argues that the very act of writing for a fundamentally naturalistic theater is itself rife with sexism: the piece first lives in that world and then places a grenade and lets it explode in front of the audience, as if Hickson were showing us how he was taught and compelled to write. At the end of the night, she sent her characters (played by Krystal Ortiz, Lucy Carapetyan, Nate Faust, Peter Moore, Jodi Gage, and Allyce Torres) into a free but unexplored landscape filled with sexual freedom and ritualized self-actualization.

That might be enough to let you know if you’d like a play that famously split London audiences and critics, as Hickson certainly intended. It’s certainly not nuanced in perspective but strikingly funny at times. And it cuts fast.

Hickson’s perspective is British and feminist, but the play reminded me of Ike Holter’s “Red Rex”. also a Steep Theater staging and a local critique of white theater folks who were wrongly convinced of their liberality. The powerhouses under the author’s attack are different here, but the pieces are similarly caustic, brutal, and fun.

“Red Rex” was filmed at Steep’s former home and capitalized on that immediacy. “The Author” is in the larger Edge Theatre (Steep is renovating its new home) and is losing some of the intensity we associate with this theatre. More specifically, this is true in the second act: the first scene with Ortiz and Faust is the knockout. This is followed by a very touching second scene between Haliyan and Faust.

But when we get to the stage of the show blowing everything up, the production struggles. It loses its intensity, which is perhaps the point of an intentionally penned piece to say the least, at least because Hickson has written incredibly compelling scenes for the scene. I thought the show had lost its way towards the end, but then as a white, aging, male critic filled with how drama has always been mostly written by men, this point of view won’t surprise anyone.

So be it. “Author” is a very interesting and daring show.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.


Review: “Author” (3 stars)

When: Until September 16

Where: Steep Theater Company at The Edge Theatre, 5451 N. Broadway

Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes

Tickets: $10-40 Diktheatre.com


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