A look into the mayor’s dirty laundry
|Signal Ensemble Theatre presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
Signal Ensemble presents the world premiere of Successors. Mayor DeKoven has announced his sudden retirement. He is the third generation of DeKoven mayors. The city is surprised. His kids are shocked. They wonder which of them will get his endorsement for mayor: greedy partier Marty, the smart but uptight Patricia or adult delinquent Scott. At a family birthday party, the trio push their political agendas in an effort to get their father’s attention and support. His choice surprises everyone including the chosen. Successors is August, Osage County starring the Daleys.
Playwright Jon Steinhagen has composed an imaginative comedy about the inner-workings of incestual politics. Steinhagen creates twelve distinct members of a family and puts them in the yard to fight it out. It’s ambitious, and some of the characters are more fleshed out than others, but overall the ensemble pulls us into the DeKoven machine. This family is familiar to mine and to Chicago history.
Under the direction of Ronan Marra, the dialogue crackles with barbs and quips. In particular, Steinhagen (Lou) delivers his own lines… best. He plays a wisecracking chief officer and nephew to the Mayor. In a loud Hawaiian shirt, Steinhagen is that guy! He is hysterical. And it runs in his family because Barbara Roeder Harris (Mae) plays his saucy mama. In a smaller role, but with big time presence, Harris zings every one of her lines. The entire cast each get individualized moments of comedy and drama. Steinhagen gives us a family festering in entitled entanglements. When she believes her son is getting caught in the web, Janet DeKoven (Meredith Bell Alvarez) effectively spirals into a maternal fury. In this mayoral chase, emotions run high. And the jokes run higher.
On an authentic set designed by Melania Lancy, this homespun backyard is the perfect locale to set off one after another fireworks. Despite Signal’s small space and the large cast, this family scene looks natural. It never feels overly crowded. No one seems superfluous. The impressive teaming of Steinhagen and Marra ensure everyone is seen and heard at this BBQ. My only speed bump is Steinhagen’s decision to give each character a finale-like exit. It feels forced. I know from personal experience after heated holiday exchanges, the clan leaves in clumps often in silence. Everyone getting one last line-in loses some of the realism and prolongs the final-final-final scene.
Still, I recommend the Successors for anyone from Chicago or anyone with a family. This political comedy is an inside look into the Mayor’s dirty laundry room.
Successors continues through March 2nd at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and are available by phone (773.698.7389) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SignalEnsemble.com. (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Johnny Knight
Meredith Bell Alvarez*, Ariel Begley, Mary O’Dowd^, Barbara Roeder Harris, Vincent L. Lonergan*, Danny Mulae, Simone Roos*, Colby Sellers, Anne Sheridan Smith, Joseph Stearns*, Jon Steinhagen*, Bries Vannon*
behind the scenes
Ronan Marra* (director, co-artistic director), Stephanie Ingram* (stage manager), Melania Lancy* (set designer), Mary O’Dowd^ (properties designer), Julie E. Ballard^ (lighting designer), Anthony Ingram* (sound designer), and Elsa Hiltner^ (costume designer), Johnny Knight (photos)
*Indicates Signal ensemble member, ^Indicates Signal artistic associate