By Calamity West
Directed by Marti Lyons
produced by Jackalope Theatre Company
At City Lit Theatre, Chicago
Underwritten and vague drama fails to capture the mood and effects of World War II on GI Bill students
It’s 1946 at an American University in a writing workshop as five students and their professor trade short stories, critiques, and debates on the merits, themes and effects of each others short stories. The Peacock, in a world premiere at City Lit Theatre, is filled with many literary references and writing techniques spoken by an older group of students fresh from WWII. If theses students were mostly veterans of a war, you’d think they’d make more references to their life-altering experience? Maybe West didn’t do much research since only Calvin (Tim Martin) spoke of Guadalcanal. Henry (Nate Whelden) was refereed to as only serving state-side. William (Andrew Burden Swanson) and Eugene (Jack Miggins) never revealed as to if and where they served. If these two didn’t serve, it would have been referenced since 4-F draft status was a mark of shame. And the group’s only female, Nan (AJ Ware) , a single-legged amputee whose loss of a leg is not fully explained, rounds out the workshop students.
The crew holds nothing back when it comes to vociferously attacking Calvin’s story. Looming largely over the students is the recent suicide of a female student, Eleanor. This repressed fact influences the Professor (Ed Dzialo) as he tries to tone down both Nan’ s violent stories and Calvin’s main character’s suicide. Much of this unwritten 85 minute drama is filled with inauthentic scholarly debate often becoming personally insulting. I simply didn’t believe much of the dialogue as being more that “playwright speak,” especially the emotional rants from Henry.
The subtext involves the stoic Nan as she now lives in Elenore’s apartment, the scene of Eleanore’s self-inflected hanging. It seems that William had an affair with both women and that Calvin’s violent side leads him to assault Nan for reasons that were not completely clear. So my problem with The Peacock is in the script. It contains underdeveloped characters with unclear motivations put into unrealistic situations. Somehow intellectual prowess reigns supreme. I find it hard to believe a group of recently returned soldiers won’t be preoccupied with their experiences of the war. I grew up with hearing many stories from my father and those of my friends about their adventures in WWII. I also have problems with how nasty some of the debates became during the workshop critiques. You’d think some of the violence from their war days would spill over? Gender and authorial intent seem to dominate here for good or bad. I was particularly impressed with Andrew Burden Swanson and Tim Martin’s performances. This cast did what they could with West’s underdeveloped work.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 6, 2013
For more info checkout The Peacock page at theatreinchicago.com
At City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, www.jackalopetheatre.org, tickets $ 15, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays at 7:30 pm, running time is 85 minutes without intermission, through December 8, 2013