Never mind Broadway in Chicago. There's a whole lotta Chicago in Broadway (or thereabouts) this week, as a phalanx of high-powered Chicago-based artists provide the foundation for a pair of edgy, disturbing dramas that merit seeing should you find yourself on the right coast in the near future.
With The Jacksonian (The New Group's Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street, through Dec. 22) the Goodman's Artistic Director Robert Falls takes an uber-talented cast and a top tier of veteran Goodman designers and lets them have at Beth Henley’s whiplash-inducing comic/tragic/comic tale of a Mississippi dentist (Ed Harris) whose professional ethics begin to rot under the pressure of a personal meltdown.
In the annals of twisted tooth docs, Harris’ Bill Perch falls somewhere between the Nazi oral surgeon of Marathon Man and the equally sadistic nutjob of Little Shop of Horrors. That Perch is also a man whose heart is clearly in the right place is a feat of counter-intuitive character development. Factor in a sociopathic hotel barkeep (Bill Pullman), a randy, racist maid (Glenne Headly, a Steppenwolf ensemble member from 1979 – 2005), a Klansman with an impacted molar, a satchel full of pharmaceuticals and a spare tank of laughing gas and you’ve got a recipe for deeply rooted trouble.
Henley's Southern Gothic-on-nitrous saga hits a high point during a prolonged Christmastime scene of supremely addled morphine/chloroform/cocaine-induced revelry, wherein Harris and Headley—frolicking in their scanties—wreak unholy havoc at the titular Mississippi hotel. As far as sex-n-drug-fueled depictions of debauchery go, the scene makes Sid and Nancy look like Mormons.
Falls has tapped the local talent pool for The Jacksonian's backstge team, with set designer Walt Spangler (The Goodman's Desire Under the Elms, King Lear, the Lyric's Don Giovanni) crafting hotel interiors that subtly capture the transient, darkly volatile vortex that's sucking Dr. Perch into emotional and physical chaos. Costume designer (and NU associate prof) Ana Kazmanic (Lookingglass' The North China Lover, the Goodman's Measure for Measure, Steppenwolf's The Wheel and August: Osage County) clothes the ensemble in period-perfect garb also captures the disparate personalities holed up at the Jacksonian.
In all, Falls has created a world both surreal and naturalistic. The moderately-to-severely deranged residents of Henley's drama can check out, but as it turns out, they just might never really leave.
Meanwhile, over at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre (150 W. 65th Street, through Jan. 5), Laurie Metcalf is all razor-edged, eviscerating wit and utterly uncompromising edges in Bruce Norris' Domesticated.
As the wife of a politician (Jeff Goldblum) brought down (so to speak) by a horrific sex scandal, Metcalf is at once supremely vulnerable and utterly formidable – the kind of woman that you just don't want to cross. Ever. Goldblum too is in exquisite form, creating a hubris-driven character that while nearly wordless for the entire first act, is richly fascinating even when you just want to smack him right in the undercarriage. Directed by Steppenwolf's Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County), Domesticated is as riveting as it is bleakly, blackly humorous. Here's hoping it shows up in Chicago in the near future.