By Kathleen Tolan
Directed By Adam Goldstein
The Side Project Theatre, Chicago
“I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”
Old Forms And Old Music Present New Ideas
What to Listen For tells the story of divorced mother Margaret (Holly Allen) as she attempts to reconnect with her estranged violinist daughter, Hannah (Julia Rose Duray), through music. Hannah left for Berlin to study violin and has since lost touch with her mother. Through discussions with deceased musicians, the two come to terms with themselves and each other. What to Listen For is a delight that incorporates shadow play and puppeteering into the production. Sadly many of the actors were not strong enough to hold the emotional weight of the play. However, with the play’s many elements, the actors performed well as an ensemble, which worked to convey the main ideas of the play.
Kathleen Tolan’s construction of the script and director Adam Goldstein’s execution was alluring. The balance of straight theatre, shadow play, puppeteering, and absurdist scenes fulfilled the many ideas presented in the script, which succeeded in transporting me out of the storefront theatre and into a dream. The presentation seemed inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Trial and the film What Dreams May Come. Although it was extremely refreshing to see shadow play and puppeteering, it may not be for everyone. There’s a grace, subtlety, and patience required for both elements that could bore an unprepared audience. Despite the fact that these are ancient theatrical techniques, a contemporary audience might find their use experimental.
The combination of the many story telling devices correlated the human struggle to the musician’s struggle. It humanized both, making it entertaining and endearing. What to Listen For was able to accomplish was Peter Saltzman attempted to do with Piano Diaries. Although this play succeeded where Saltzman failed, it suffered some of the same problems of pretentious ramblings on musical theory. Granted, it’s hard to say whether or not this was a fault of the script, or a fault of the acting/directing. The times I felt most disassociated from the performance were when key actors turned their backs on the audience; or when the stage was so filled with actors and action I found it difficult to concentrate.
Together the actors juggled the show’s many elements and worked as a cohesive ensemble. Unfortunately, many times during scenes that relied on the strength of an individual actor, the deliveries were monochromatic. Little subtext and concern were displayed for the characters’ personal developments and feelings. However, David Prete gave an elegant portrayal of musician Glenn Gould. Prete was strong yet gentle as he guided Hannah through her journey, serving as an omniscient, but not overbearing, host.
Although we idolize artists and their affect on us can be profound, their struggles are intrinsically human. An artist’s journey is no more profound than what the average person deals with day to day. The only difference between an artist and anyone else is that an artist chooses to express their thoughts and emotions through a medium designed for consumption. What to Listen For does a great job of describing the ineffable qualities of relationships and music; however some of the actors’ performances make the production fall just short of coherent. I recommend seeing this show if you’re looking for something new, but if you prefer seeing something more traditional and polished I would proceed with caution.
Date Reviewed: June 3rd, 2014
For more info checkout the What To Listen For page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-340-0140, www.thesideproject.net, tickets $20, Thursday-Saturday 7:30pm, Sunday 3pm, running time is 75 minutes with no intermission, through July 6th, 2014