The City of Conversation

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By Anthony Giardina.

Directed by Marti Lyons.

At Northlight Theatre, Skokie.

Political  drama is a farewell to personal civility in national politics.

Set in 1979 Washington, D.C. at a mansion in Georgetown (impressive set design by  Tom Burch), we are at the place where through the years, Hester Ferris (Lia D. Mortensen), a Kennedy-liberal from the 60’s, held posh dinner parties. These events definitely help liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans come to agreements and compromises on government policy, political appointments and new legislation.  These private parties allowed political adversaries the opportunity to relax, have a drink and civilly reach a consensus. After all, most politicians in that era where  to some degree or another friends. Hester hosted many of these parties in  the 60’s and 70’s.

The first few pages of Winifred Salisbury's original handwritten journal from her European trip, 1914.

But when her son Colin (Greg Matthew Anderson) returns home from the London School of Economics with a bright, ambitious Reagan-ite girlfriend, Anna Fitzgerald (Mattie Hawkinson), Hester knew that girl’s shocking new world view would change the status quo. Anna got Colin to abandon his mother’s liberal views as he accepted the Reagan agenda.

The first few pages of Winifred Salisbury's original handwritten journal from her European trip, 1914.

Forward seven years and now Hester babysits Ethan, Colin and Anna’s six year old son,  Ethan (Tyler Kaplan) while mother and son work for the Reagan-ite agenda in D. C.  A family divide occurs when Hester quietly works to stop  the Bork selection to the Supreme Court thus pitting Anna and Colin against Hester with visitation of Ethan as her punishment for Hester’s lobbying against the nomination. This divide symbolizes the start of the personal attacks and the outright personal hatred between liberals and conservatives that was to produce political gridlock in Washington from Reagan through Obama.

The first few pages of Winifred Salisbury's original handwritten journal from her European trip, 1914.

The Ferris family struggles while being separated until, Ethan (now played by Anderson) arrives at his grandmother’s mansion in 2008 upon the inaugural of Obama.  Can this family from opposite sides of the partisan fence reconcile.? Playwright Anthony Giardina develops realistic characters that present honestly throughout the generations. We enjoy the commanding charismatic  Hester, played with aggressive power by Lia Mortensen, one of the finest leading lady’s in Chicago. Her doting sister is played nicely (with some comic relief) by Natalie West, always effective in supporting roles. Mattie Hawkins is the bright matter-of-fact conservative zealot while Greg Matthew Anderson is fine as the weaker pawn.

The City of Conversation is a ode to all the liberals (Bernie Sanders?) as presented by Mortensen’s Hester who even in old age still proudly keeps her life-long views. As a play, The City of Conversation is a well acted work that lets younger folks know how the liberals opened doors for many of today’s policies that we take for granted. The City of Conversation is also a tribute to all the old-time radicals who never sold out. And, of course, it is a cautionary tale hinting of the major horrors  of  a Trump election.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: September 23. 2016.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout The City of Conversation page at theatreinchicago.com.

At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets $30 – $81, Wednesdays at 1 &  7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7;30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2;30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:3- & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 23, 2016.