Burning Bluebeard


Based on Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre Firethe ruffians

Written  by Jay Torrence

Directed by Halena Kays

Produced by The Ruffians

At Theater Wit, Chicago

Fantastic avant-garde show as fine alternative to all the holiday shows

I must confess that I didn’t see the 2011 production of Burning Bluebeard that was staged at The Neo-Futurarium. But I must report that the current version at Theater Wit is a fabulous, thrilling theatre piece! It is one of the best shows of 2013! It contains all the things that make live theatre sizzle: a worthy story, creatively theatrical staging, talent cast members dedicated to the work and a combination of elements that produce the proper mood and atmosphere.

the ruffians

Burning Bluebeard is inspired by the true story of the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire that in 15 minutes killed over 600 audience member and one cast member. This fantastical tale finds six singed clown performers at the burnt remains of the theatre (set design by Dan Broberg). They are attempting to perform their spectacular Christmas Pantomine once and for all. They hope to reach the happy ending of their second act that wasn’t possible due to the fire.

the rufians

Anthony Courser, Dean Evans, Molly Plunk, Jay Torrence. Leah Urzendowski Courser and Ryan Walters each have their moments to shine in this spirited and complex work. We see pantomime, tumbling, high-wire stunts, vaudevillian comedy, song and dancing fueled with imaginative costumes (by Lizze Bracken), eerie light (by Maggie Fullilove-Nugent) and scary sounds (by Mike Tutaj). There is plenty of audience interaction as well as slapstick and unique vignettes.


The 100 minute show is funny, heart felt with a heart. It finds theatrically interesting ways to tell the story of the events of that day when the fire energetically took 600 lives. Each of the six tell their story of what they did when the fire started. We see that Eddie Foy (Ryan Walters) tried to calm the panicked audience as well as asking the balcony members to stay seated resulting in hundreds being caught in the fire storm that ensued.   We hear about the heroics from the stage manager (Jay Torrence) who saved many of the 400 cast members. Mixed with sharp, irreverent wit, the show both demonstrates the early 20th Century theatre techniques and presents an innovative presentation of the Bluebeard fairy tale.

This is a marvelous theatrical event. It combines theatricality with historical storytelling. It demonstrates how a tragic event can haunt the survivors. The brilliance of the acting and the creativity of playwright Jay Torrence and the spectacular staging by director Halena Kays makes Burning Bluebeard a landmark event! I can’t thing of a more impressive show currently running. Best get your tickets soon because many of the performances are sold out. We can hope this show gets legs.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: December 7, 2013

For more info checkout the Burning Bluebeard page at

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL,  call 773-975-8150,, tickets $36, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm with 7:30 pm Sunday performances on Dec 15, 22 & 29 and a special 3 pm matinee on Monday, Dec. 30, running time is 100 minutes without intermission, through January 5, 2014

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