Successors

 

By Jon Steinhagensuccessors logo

Directed by Ronan Marra

At Signal Ensemble Theatre, Chicago

Hilarious political/family comic fable is smart and winning

Jon Steinhagen (Blizzard ’67, Aces, The Analytical Engine)  is a prolific playwright, actor and musician whose world premiere, Successors, is now running at Signal Ensemble Theatre. Steinhagen has a talent for writing comedies that contain loads of zingers, retorts and comic hyperbole. He also develops richly textured comic characters with whom we relate. In Successors, a political family, the DeKoven’s, have run a large Midwestern city for nearly a century as one DeKoven mayor upon his death passes on the post to his chosen heir.

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When Kenton DeKoven (Vincent Lonergan) decides to retire as mayor breaking the family tradition of staying in power until death, it sends his chief of staff,  Lou Tedesco (Jon Steinhagen) into ultra spin-mode. Which  DeKoven sibling will be anointed by Kenton to be the next mayor? Will it be the oldest son, Martin (Colby Sellers) – a money-grabbing city official or sister Patricia (Anne Sheridan Smith) – the sour-faced wound-too-tight daughtern or the youngest son, Scott (Bries Vannon) a rocker who gets too many DUI’s? What is a father to do? Who to pick?

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At the graduation party for Martin’s son, Tyler (Danny Mulae) held at Kenton’s modest home, the three siblings via for an endorsement by their father to succeed him. The infighting ensues with the help of  Tedesco, a perpetual cellphone addict. With  jabs by spouses or girlfriends, the mix and rivalry leads to myahem, sharp exchanges and loads of  witty comedy sprinkled with zingers and cutting retorts. Add the fabulous comic rebuttals and bluntly honest observations by Aunt Mae (Barbara Roeder Harris) – Lou’s mother – and Successors plays as a terrific twelve person comedy that will hook you in and keep you laughing throughout.

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As the story unfolds, we see how each character’s foibles and personality traits  make them both human and unappealing as a successor to the quirky longtime mayor. After much banter and several arguments, the question of succession takes a wild turn as the 18 year old Tyler emerges as a potential candidate after Kenton  bluntly  states that none of his children are to his liking as mayor . Tedesco tries to “spin” why Tyler would be a viable candidate to keep the DeKoven dynasty intact.

This preposterous idea  is both richly comic and amazingly plausible as written by Steinhagen.  What makes it so funny is the terrific performance by the 17 year old high school senior, Danny Mulae who deftly plays Tyler. Danny has the innocence, charm and truthfulness to make Tyler a fully developed character. Danny Mulae’s natural talent and acting instincts are developed far beyond his years. He is someone to watch.

What makes Successors such a hilarious show is the expert work from the entire ensemble under the tight, well-timed direction by Ronan Marra. The cast smoothly navigates Steinhagen’s  fine script with energetic aplomb. Each performer shows their comic skills but Barbara Roeder Harris’ stinging honest lines were so well-timed that she led the laugh parade.  Vincent L. Lonergan, Joseph Stearns and Jon Steinhagen each offered terrific performances.  Steinhagen demonstrates his actin chops in addition to his writing skills.

This is a tightly rich comic fable with enduring characters that will easily grab you and keep you laughing throughout. It is an old fashion Neil Simon-like comedy. Successors once again proves why Signal Ensemble Theatre is a Chicago treasure. They simply do excellent theatre and they have the chutzpah to do original works like Successors. See this funny show to rediscover smartly crafted comic theatre.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 26, 2013

For more info checkout the Successors page at theatreinchicago.com

At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago, IL, call 773-698-7389, www.signalensemble.com, tickets $20. $15 for industry/students/seniors. groups, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with permission, through March 2, 2013