Tall Tale Is Too Big
|The New Colony Theatre presents|
|That Sordid Little Story|
|By Will Cavedo, Andrew Hobgood and Benno Nelson
Composed by H. Riggs, C. Gingrich, T. Sissom and T. Lux
Directed by Andrew Hobgood
Music Directed by Henry Riggs
at Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, Chicago (map)
through August 7th | tickets: $25 | more info
reviewed by Keith Ecker
The New Colony Theatre’s original play That Sordid Little Story is a huge production, both figuratively and literally. It fills the spacious Viaduct Theater with a two-tiered stage that is flanked with jutting runways. There are two intermissions throughout the 2.5-hour long piece. Including musicians, the cast just jumps the dozen marker, which I know is no Cherrywood, but it’s still a sizeable amount of people for an off-Loop production.
The play also feels huge. It’s epic in its nature, with its protagonist, Billy Lomax (Patriac Coakley), journeying from Fayetteville Georgia across the South in search of a bluegrass band that may just hold the answers to the identity and whereabouts of his father. Along the way, Billy encounters a cast of colorful characters including a manipulative antique shop owner (Caitlin Chuckta) and her jealous brother (Wes Needham), a man of color who claims he’s half Cherokee (Anthony DiNicola), a stand-up comic (Sean Ellis), a couple of Latino day laborers (Aaron Alonso and Gary Tiedemann) and others.
The elusive bluegrass band serves as the soundtrack to Billy’s life. Each song inexplicably represents Billy’s current situation, or at least that’s how he reads into it. And so the band becomes the fuel that drives Billy, and for that matter the rest of the play, forward.
I should note that The New Colony takes a unique approach to creating a new production like this. The lines delineating actor, writer and director are blurred, with all cast members getting some say in the development of the play and its final treatment. With a company of about 30 members, this sounds like a situation where too many cooks could have spoiled the pot. And while the pot is not spoiled, it suffers from too many ingredients.
The play practically bursts at the seams. There’s just so much in it. Issues of race, issues of family, issues of wealth and social class. In covering so much territory, very little is actually said.
In addition, there are too many characters that come in and out of Billy’s life for us to really care about them. Once Billy starts developing a connection with someone, he leaves or he is left. We as the audience catch on to this pattern quickly, which means mentally we know there’s little at stake with these friendships. Once that happens, we know we can check out, and thus the relationships that Billy is making just don’t have much of an impact. In the end, you’re left just waiting to see how the whole thing wraps up.
Also, some of these scenes lag. There are conversations between talking heads that sound reminiscent of college-level discussion groups. Much of this dialogue could be cut, and we’d still get the point. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a 2.5-hour long play as long as your play needs to be 2.5 hours. With some obvious editing, That Sordid Little Story could shave off a good 30 minutes.
But let’s take a moment to focus on what this play does well, namely, the music. This is a four-star score, lyrically and melodically. Heart-wrenching at times, uplifting at others, the music overshadows the rest of the play with its spot-on descant harmonies and its band’s down-home-country affection.
Also, the acting is consistently solid. Standout performances include Sean Ellis as the drunk comic, Aaron Alonso as a non-English speaking immigrant and Caitlin Chuckta, who reminded me of comic actress Stephnie Weir.
That Sordid Little Story is anything but little. It’s a big piece – too big. With some self-editing, this could have been more than just a cool concept. But as it stands, I’d rather just listen to the soundtrack.
Henry Riggs – Composer/Lyricist
Chris Gingrich – Composer/Lyricist
Tara Sissom – Composer/Lyricist
Thea Lux – Composer/Lyricist
Brandon Ruiter – Bass
Andrew Hobgood – Writer/Director
Ashley Wolfe – Assistant Director
Benno Nelson – Writer
Will Cavedo – Writer/Fight Captain
Henry Riggs – Music Director
Pat Coakley (Billy)
Caitlin Chuckta (Abby, Corie)
Wes Needham (Caleb, Massey and others)
Jack McCabe (Sonny, Lefty, and others)
Anthony DiNicola (Joseph)
Sean Ellis (Bennie, Russ and others)
Gary Tiedemann (Hernan, Pete, and others)
Aarón Alonso (Artemio, Bartender)
Danny Taylor (Les, Bartender)
Kate Carson-Groner – Stage Manager
Thrisa Hodits – Assistant Stage Manager
John Holt – Scenic Designer
Nathan R. Rohrer – Costume Designer
Kevin McClintock – Technical Director
Nicholas J. Carroll – Lighting Designer
Shelby Massey – Production Manager
C.C. Gould – Assistant Lighting Designer
Sarah Fornace – Fight Director
Gary Tiedemann – Dramaturg
Tara Sissom – Art Director
Whit Nelson – Web Design
Cole Orloff – Build Crew
Megan Johns – Build Crew
Tony Kaehny – Build Crew
Travis Kessel – Build Crew
Mary Hollis Inboden – Build Crew
Maari Suorsa – Build Crew
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