Now extended thru March 26!
Strong and satisfying parable of privilege
|Steep Theatre Company presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Jeremy Kazan is a spectacular dramaturg. Even those who don’t normally read the program should most definitely peruse his well-written and researched summary of the destructive “high spirits” of privileged British young men. The Riot Club of Laura Wade’s play Posh may be fictitious, but the group of moneyed university students set on drinking and devilry resemble a similar organization at Oxford University, which boasts centuries of scandal and well-heeled alumni including politicians and royalty. Ward’s play introduces American audiences to this excessive and often violent culture in a tale that’s part Gossip Girl, part Lord of the Flies. Acclaimed Chicago director Jonathan Berry brings the words to roaring, disturbing life in Steep Theatre Company’s U.S. premiere production.
Posh begins with current Riot Club member Guy (Sean Wiberg) consulting his godfather, club alumnus and VIP Jeremy (Will Kinnear) about something very important. After a salacious YouTube video forced Riot Club to go on hiatus, the group will gather again soon, and Guy wants the meal to be special. Fast forward to the night of the meeting, where ten young men – eight current members and two inductees – congregate in tuxedos with tails, eagerly anticipating the hijinks to ensue. But all too soon, things take a turn for the disastrous as class is questioned, money is flashed and the young men debate just who really matters in society.
It seems the trend in American theater of late is short but sweet scripts with few characters, one or two settings and deep explorations of relationships. Ward’s Posh breaks nearly all of these rules. The ten members of the Riot Club are onstage for nearly all of the play’s two and a half hour running time. Their individual characteristics and relationships to one another aren’t deeply explored, but rather deftly revealed through clever dialogue, discreet subtleties and over the top action. For example, the audience learns that because one member is openly gay and another the son of Greek immigrants, the Riot Club consider themselves very liberal. Yet the young men don’t shy away from “othering” one another with jabs and jokes that aren’t always funny. Ward’s writing is both beautiful and brutal, always showing and never telling, and gloriously illustrating the class divides of Britain in ways both hilarious and fierce.
Because of the overlapping dialogue and plethora of characters, Posh could easily fall apart in the hands of an inexperienced director. Not so with Steep’s production: Berry’s staging is positively impeccable, a dark dance of working class versus upper, the transitions smooth and almost magical. Thanks to casting director Caroline Neff, Posh is bursting with youthful, intelligent performers, who perfectly embody the future captains of industry, perfectly comfortable skating by on their ancestors’ hard work. Ashley Ann Woods’ set design transforms Steep’s cozy space into the back room of a backwater pub, and Stephanie Cluggish’s costumes set the tuxedo-clad boys in sharp contrast to their more humble surroundings. Pete Dully’s lighting provides a haunting effect and Matthew Chapman’s sound design accompanies the sinister tomfoolery with the panache of a John Williams or Danny Elfman film score.
Posh blends the excitement of live theater with the epic grit of an independent film. Both script and direction are smart from beginning to end, the cast is phenomenal and the production values above and beyond. Posh will make you angry. It will also make you laugh, wince and ask yourself whether you’ve checked your privilege today.
Posh continues through
February 27th March 26th at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25-$35, and are available by phone (773-649-3186) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SteepTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Gregg Gilman and Lee Miller
Will Kinnear (Jeremy), Sean Wiberg (Guy Bellingfield), Alex Gillmor (Chris), Eric Staves (George Balfour), Michael Kurowski (Ed Montgomery), Christopher Borek (Toby Maitland), Dash Barber (Harry Villiers), Colin Sphar (Hugo Fraser-Tyrwhitt – through 2/22), Michael Holding, David Seeber (Hugo Fraser-Tyrwhitt – after 2/22), Matthew Garry (Miles Richards), Ryan Hallihan (Dimitri Mitropoulos), Japhet Balaban (James Leighton-Masters), Bryce Gangel (Rachel), Kendra Thulin (Charlie)
Understudies: Billy Minshall (Jeremy, Chris), Daniel Mozurkewich (Guy, Toby), Andy Fleischer (George, Alistair), Connor Konz (Ed, Hugo), David Raymond (Harry, James), Jeff Kurysz (Miles, Dimitri), Charlotte Thomas (Rachel, Charlie)
behind the scenes
Jonathan Berry (director), Katie Messmore (stage manager), Ashley Ann Woods (scenic design), Pete Dully (lighting design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Matthew Chapman (sound design), Jenny Pinson (props design), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Christina Gorman (fight director), Jeremy Kazan (dramaturg), Alan Weusthoff (technical director), Ellen Willett (production manager), Adrian Abel Azevedo (assistant director), Caroline Neff (casting director), Rebecca Cagney (stage management intern), Gregg Gilman, Lee Miller (photos)