Plath/Hughes-Chicago Musical Theatre Festival

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, now in its second year, is a new-works festival produced by Underscore Theatre company. We created CMTF for one reason: there’s a wealth of musical theatre creators and performers in Chicago, but the high risks of producing new musicals means that few companies are willing to take a chance, especially on new authors. CMTF is designed from the ground up to showcase Chicago’s emerging musical theatre creator community, and this year’s festival features 13 brand-spankin new musicals!

Book, Music, Lyrics, and Direction by Robert Eric Shoemakerplathhughes_banner
Orchestration by Abigail Pershing and Nikolai Maximay
Produced by poetry/is.

PLATH/HUGHES is a duet musical written by Robert Eric Shoemaker about the marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. This jazzy two-actor show sports songs inspired by the poetry of the famous couple. The book creates a new discussion of what their dynamic was like, what they could have been like off the page, the love and beauty of their partnership, as well as the discord.

Plath/Hughes is the first work I’ve seen so far at the CMTF that I can easily see being transferred to one of the dramatic storefronts in Chicago. That’s partly because the production is much more fully realized than the others. Director and writer Robert Shoemaker has been mounting the show off-and-on with its original cast, Alexandra Mathews and Justin Krivda, for about two years since Plath/Hughes began as a student work at the University of Chicago. But the show’s success is also due to the seriousness with which the team explores these two poets’ relationship, and Shoemaker’s dark, mostly minor key music. Plath/Hughes is a series of scenes from the time Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes met at a party in England, until the aftermath of her famous suicide, with their love, fights, confusion, and mutual jealousy in between. Plath’s songs are mostly slow and jazzy, Hughes’s often sound like English folk tunes, and their duets balance melody with clashing chords and riffs. My only problem with the music is that I wish there were more of it—Hughes lectures Plath several times about poetic theory before putting his thoughts into a song. Projections on a screen in back don’t always help to establish which country the couple is in, but the simple lighting by Isabel Ochoa Gold is amazingly effective at creating an intimate and erotic, but tense atmosphere. Hopefully, this is a work that will continue to have a long life after its remaining CMTF performance.

Jacob Davis
[email protected]

Reviewed July 5, 2015

Playing at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Performance is July 11 at 9:30 pm. Running time is one hundred minutes with no intermission.