The Jungle

By Upton Sinclairoracle theatre

Adapted and Directed by Matt Foss

At Oracle Theatre, Chicago

Blood splattering depiction of the Chicago slaughter houses in the early 1900’s underscores the immigrant abuses

Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle written to demonstrate the flight of the immigrant laborer in Chicago’s stockyards ended up getting the public to demand reforms in the food processing slaughterhouses. Adapter and director Matt Foss has mounted a moving and vividly blood curling adaptation of Sinclair’s The Jungle with emphasis on the toll and exploitation of the immigrant laborers by American society. Along the way, we see how the unsanitary conditions and policies of the company ekes out every possible profit source from each animal slaughtered. Germs, dirt, feces, even a few human bodies were thrown together to make sausage and or fertilizer. The use of black and red ink upon large rolls of butcher-block paper vividly suggested the visceral animal slaughter. We witness the brutality and the unsanitary conditions that affected the workers. 

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But  in Matt Foss’ adaptation, he correctly restored Sinclair emphasis on the flight, exploitation and cruelty toward the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus (the stoic Travis Delgado) and his family as they land in Chicago in search of their part of the American Dream. We see their dream played out as a nightmare as they get robbed, exploited, forced to work for near slave wages. They get swindled as they purchase a home; the neighbors, with the exception of fellow Lithuanian Jackob (Dylan Stuckey), are depicted as a series of nasty folks bent on cheating the immigrants at every turn. After a few scenes, Foss’ adaptation come off as socialist propaganda.

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Despite some clever staging and the curious use of folk music and pop-infused electric guitar riffs, to me The Jungle was a tedious and repetitious series of “exploit the immigrants” scenes. I began to wonder who the audience is for such a ‘downer’? Every possible terrible thing that can happen to Jurgis and his family happens yet for the most part he is the noble victim. All the Americans are depicted as vultures. I could appreciate the dramatization of  events from that era before workers organized into unions and the staging impacted my emotions but ultimately I failed to find a message or call to action that surly was implied? After one nasty thing after another destroyed Jurgis’ family and his dreams, we are left with a hopelessness that feels hollow. Even in Sinclair’s novel, Jurgis finally finds help and employment with a socialist organization. There is no hint of hope in this downer drama. Therefore, I wonder who the audience is for such a depressing play?  I guess the deft staging and the dedicated players may be the only saving grace here? Oracle Theatre is an amazing troupe who do imaginative and artistic works but their production of The Jungle is a tad too depressing and devoid of any hope of salvation to be credible.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed:  July 21, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout The Jungle page at theatreinchicago.com

At Oracle Theatre,3809 N. Broadway, Chicago, Il, tickets are free, www.publicaccesstheatre.org, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, Mondays at 8pm, running time is 100 minutes without intermission, through September 6, 2014

Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus.

 

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Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus.

 

Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus.