By Maria Irene Fornes.
Directed by Carlos Murrillo.
Produced by Cor Theatre
and Stage left Theatre.
At Theater Wit Theatre, Chicago.
Sprawling epic four one-acts make for a densely unique theatre experience.
Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes’ What of the Night? is a epic avant garde work that contains four one-act plays that are loosely connected. Lasting just under three hours, this sprawling work is not for everyone yet it is an important theatrical event in the spirit of works like Mother Courage.
The press notes state: “What of the Night? is about sex, power, institutional failure, human frailty, betrayal, dreams, and madness. A 1989 Pulitzer Prize finalist, it follows an extended family whose lives are intertwined even as they try to escape the ties that bind them. When the just-married 14-year-old Birdie (Dionne Addai) leaves her impoverished home to seek a better life, she unwittingly sets in motion a sprawling epic told in intimate vignettes that span across time and geography. Rainbow (Kathryn Acosta) finds love. Charlie (Casey Morris) finds solace in loyalty. Ray (Nelson Rodriguez) finds the trappings of success. Though their yearnings are briefly rewarded, the lyrical story lays bare the difference between the hunger of the soul and the hunger of the ego.”
The four one-acts include “Nadine: 1938,” where the dysfunctional family is beset with cruelty and extreme poverty.
“Springtime: 1958.” is about a lesbian couple with one lover willing to dowhatever to help her sick partner survive.
“Lust: 1968-1983,” is about sex, perversion and hidden desires.
“Hunger:” a future after an economic disaster.
I had mixed response to this work. At nearly three hours, the work is a test for audiences as well as the disjointed action and the strange dialogue. Despite movingly dedicated performances by the cast of 13 and a dark atmosphere of raw sex and violence, What of the Night? will captive some, bore others while impressing others. This show is not for those who demand clarity or coherence. Poverty, man’s cruelty and sexual deviations together with avant garde motifs render this epic an ode to human survival. The craft and dedication of the actors and the “what will happen next” structure will keep audiences involved.
I believe this is a true “love it or hate it play” that is worthy of an audience. It is one of those important theatrical experiences that you may hate it after seeing it but you were glad that you saw it. What of the Night? left me worn out yet impressed. It demonstrates the power of unique storytelling live onstage. Serious theatre patrons will be impressed despite its flaws. It is a brave production.
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, for tickets, call 773.975.8150, $20 -$30, Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3.