By Howard Korder
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Produced by Steep Theatre Company
If all US History were this interesting, maybe people would stop making the same mistakes.
The joy of the Chicago theatre scene is that anyone with a vision can create theatre, and sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Steep Theatre Company has always found the wherewithal to create compelling theatre, and The Hollow Lands is no exception.
The Hollow Lands is an ambitious 14-actor, 30 character historical epic about America’s early pioneers spanning over forty years (1815-1857) throughout all of the United States.
The protagonist is Jim Newman, an impressive performance by Jeremy Fisher, a likable and honest Irish immigrant. His journey has a rocky start, but quickly picks up when Chase, a liquor salesman who takes an interest in him has an unfortunate twist of fate. Fast-forward three years and Jim is a new man in social and economical stature, married and expecting a child. Things take a turn when Hayes (in an wonderfully larger than life performance by Yosh Hayashi) seduces Jim with the prospect of instant gratification, disguised as The American Dream.
“We need not dream. Only reach out, sir. Reach out and close . . . your . . fingers”.
The third act takes place twenty years after the second. This act shows ramifications of the decisions made by Jim and Hayes, and attempts to wrap the story up.
Howard Korder, best known for Search and Destroy (produced by Steep in 2001) and the Pulitzer Prize nominated Boy’s Life, uses The Manifest Destiny and The pursuit of The American Dream as his central metaphors in this epic tale. I applaud Korder for having the courage air this country’s dirty laundry, resulting in some emotionally harrowing moments. The Hollow Lands, an engaging, although not always entertaining piece of work. The first two acts are air tight, but the third act lost focus and became heavy handed.
However, director Jonathan Berry’s production makes up for the flaws. The play clocks in at three hours, but time flies with the necessary weight and pace given to each moment and scene. Berry moves the cast of 14 through the intimate space with grace and ease, creating beautiful and detailed stage pictures. I commend the cast for showing character types, without falling into stereotype. Lightning Designer Brandon Wardell did a fine job creating multiple locations, while establishing mood and highlighting subtext. Make-up Artist Mieka van der Ploeg must be commended for creating realistic scars and age make-up in such an intimate space. The Hollow Lands is a fine display of Steep Theatre’s signature ensemble acting with each cast member having at least one moment to shine.
Steep Theatre Company, Chicago IL, www.steeptheatre.com or call (312) 458-0722, tickets are $18, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm, running time is 3 hours with two ten-minute intermission(s), Steep’s new location is conveniently located at 1115 West Berwyn, located by the Berwyn Red Line stop and is within blocks of the #92, #36, #147, and #151 buses. Through August 1.
Editor’s Note: I agree with Chris Arnold’s review of The Hollow Lands. Let me add that Steep Theatre usually mounts terrific ensemble works–this one is an example of how ensemble theatre should work. I especially enjoyed Jeremy Fisher’s Jim Newman—the lead character. Fisher deftly shows the way. Steep’s new digs are a treat. Storefront theatre shines here.