Ambitious ‘Night’ intensely explores poverty, survival
|Cor Theatre and Stage Left Theatre present|
|What of the Night?|
Review by Mark Davidson
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize when it first premiered in 1990, Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés’s What of the Night? is an important, but rarely produced, work of unconventional theater. Ambitiously presented by Cor Theatre and Stage Left Theatre, What of the Night? explores poverty and survival through a series of four unique segments titled Nadine, Springtime, Lust, and Hunger.
In Nadine, set in the 1930’s, the titular character is raising four children somewhere in the Southwest: baby Lucille, teenagers Rainbow and Charlie, and a stray girl not born of Nadine, Birdie. The town grifter Pete bullies Charlie, and sells him clothes stolen from slumbering drunks. Nadine trades sex with Pete for money to make ends meet. Charlie and Birdie marry, but soon Birdie leaves for hopefully greener pastures.
Twenty years later, in Springtime, we find Rainbow in a relationship with Greta. Rainbow has to steal to pay for sick Greta’s treatments. Ray, given away years ago, appears to wreak havoc on Rainbow and Greta, causing the splintering of the relationship.
The third segment, Lust, covers 1968 to 1983. Ray returns and advances in a corporation by satisfying the sexual demands of his executive, Joseph. Meanwhile, Ray’s marriage to Rachel is hollow, empty of love or lust. Part of the cause is Ray’s affair with Birdie, now working as Rachel’s maid. We watch Ray transform to a shadow of himself.
The last segment is Hunger. In the near-future, we see a street where lost souls (now including Ray) sleep outside a shelter. A well-to-do Birdie arrives to give food, but then she is not allowed to leave. She faints as the homeless people grasp for food from a foreboding angel.
Though What of the Night? is a long, intense piece (just short of 3 hours), the heaviness is eased by an evening full of powerful performances. Tosha Fowler provides a world-weary earthiness to the role of Nadine. Charlie, played by Casey Morris, effectively evokes sympathy during the bullying. Kathryn Acosta successfully displays Rainbow’s loving resolve to care for Greta, and the desperation that increases with each encounter with Ray. Dionne Addai adroitly portrays Birdie’s evolution from a street waif to a strong woman whose spirit is ultimately crushed at the end. Miguel Nunez is a threatening presence as Pete, while Allyce Torres shows us a gentle, tragic character in Greta. Stephen Loch is quite seedy as Joseph; Nelson Rodriguez presents a powerful stage presence as Ray, and Kate Black-Spence goes from delightfully deranged to movingly strong as Helena. The entire cast is splendid and hard-working, with Rodriguez and Black-Spence as particular standouts.
Director Carlos Murillo takes all sorts of risks in this bold production and they mostly pay off. Additionally, Brenda Winstead’s costumes, Eleanor Kahn’s set , and Eric Vigo’s lights combine to give a lively tableau to the events. The sound design by Jeffrey Levin is used to dazzling effects, especially during a lengthy scene in which the cast lipsyncs to pre-recorded dialogue with distortion effects added. Violence choreography by Nick Sandys is convincing (and wince-inducing).
This is an extremely heavy play to sit through. Very intense, especially in the Hunger segment. It is certainly a worthy show which this reviewer recommends, but can be a long slog. Don’t miss out on seeing this rarely-produced but pivotal piece.
What of the Night? continues through February 12th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $18-$30, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StageLeftTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes, includes intermissions)
Photos by Ian McLaren
Dionne Addai (Birdie), Kathryn Acosta (Rainbow), Kate Black-Spence (Helena, Leah), Tosha Fowler (Nadine, Reba), Stephen Loch (Joseph), Casey Morris (Charlie), Miguel Nunez (Pete), Nelson Rodriguez (Ray), Allyce Torres (Greta), Graham Carlson, Megan Caton, Morgan Cohen, Danny Dauphin (understudies)
behind the scenes
Carlos Murillo (director), Nick Sandys (violence design), Eleanor Kahn (set design, props design), Brenda Winstead (costume design), Eric Vigo (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Zoe Benditt (stage manager), Michael Starcher (production manager), Matt Super (technical director), Jen Poulin, Brittany Gillespie (asst. directors), Zev Valancy (dramaturg), Maddie Grubbs (asst. stage manager), Briana Schwartz (rehearsal ASM), Tony Santiago (asst. set design), Anthony Venturini (graffiti artist), Ian McLaren (photographer).