REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Vortex

A Play in Three Acts 

By Noel Coward

Directed by Jim Schneider

Produced by Dead Writers Theatre Collective

At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago

Gorgeous sets (all three) and terrific acting make Noel Coward’s 1924 scandalous comedy, The Vortex, a pleasurable look back at the British gentry post The Great War

Prolific writer, poet, composer and actor, Noel Coward’s fist major worldwide hit play which he also stared in, comes to life in a beautifully costumed and wonderfully elaborate Art Deco 20’s styled sets (costumes by Elizabeth Wislar, scenic design by Edward Matthew Walter) now playing in the main stage at the Greenhouse Theater. Originally a scandalous comedy of manners that dealt with sexual vanity and drug abuse among the British upper classes.  The Vortex is a story about nymphomaniac socialite, Florence (Bonnie Hilton) and her cocaine-addicted son, Nicky (Kaelan Strouse) ( originally played by Coward). Some saw the drugs as a mask for homosexuality but that topic was much too controversial for theatre in 1924.  The Vortex was a hit in London and New York and on its American tour except that the Chicago run in 1926 scheduled for a six week run closed after only two weeks.

noel coward

After 90 years, The Vortex has lost much of its scandal but it still contains the rich sardonic snobbery of the elite post Edwardian British gentry. In director Jim Schneider’s newly formed theatre company, Dead Writers Theatre Collective, no detail has been spared to reenact the original show’s opulence, articulation and pompous snobbery. The entire cast sports authentic high English accents while capturing the spirit and the biting satire of Coward’s stinging dialogue.

noel coward

The story centers around Florence, a most promiscuous middle aged lady (mother and wife) who openly dotes over her new young lover despite her husband’s presence. She hosts her snob friends, themselves an obnoxious lot of privileged ones with too much time (and money) on their hands. When Nicky, Florence’s 24 year old son arrive home from a year in Paris, the ill-tempered youth has something explosive to announce to his mother. Florence is so occupied doting on young lover that she dismisses Nicky as merely a rage-filled youth. Florence still acts and believes that she is raving beauty as she was in years past. The decadence and self adsorbed players in their world was effective presented by Schneider’s fine cast.

As Nicky’s temper tantrums explode in  the eventual confrontational scene in act three between Nicky and Florence. Nicky’s secret will shattered Florence’s illusionary world  forcing her and Nicky to confront the unpleasant truths about their lives. That Florence is no longer a raving beauty and that Nicky is a dependent cocaine addict.

noel coward

In today, world, The Vortex isn’t shocking rather a curious peak back to a wonderfully entertaining world of  Noel Coward’s privileged gentry.  Well spoken, funny, cynical and flamboyant characters populate a world we enjoy visiting. This smart comedy is well acted and the production values splendid. Kaelan Strouse’s Nicky and Bonnie Hilton’s Florence led the fine cast with their raw emotions and genuine honesty. This is an ambitious well crafted inaugural production. I look forward to their next production. This is a most entertaining comedy.


Tom Williams

At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL,  call 773-404-7336, tickets $30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with 2 intermissions, through August 26, 2012

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