Friday, July 03, 2009

Up (The SOB Review)

Up (The SOB Review) – Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois

***1/2 (out of ****)


Maybe it’s that the title is exactly the same as the current Disney/Pixar hit.

You know the one. The film out a pie-in-the-sky dreamer who yearns to be lifted from an ordinary life and uses balloons to take flight from the comfort of his own surroundings. Oh wait, that also neatly summarizes Bridget Carpenter’s stirring and tender Up as well. Funny though how dissimilar these two takes on the same essential theme can be.

After being lulled into a false sense that the only way is up during the first act, Carpenter’s emotionally satisfying play about a wide-eyed visionary named Walter Griffin (a remarkable Ian Barford) really takes off, even if against any predictable prevailing winds.

With Anna D. Shapiro’s marvelous direction providing appropriately measured ballast and pitch, Up is nothing short of a lofty, ambitious play about hope and capacity for discovery, including those of a decidedly introspective nature. And it works.

Years after Walter has succeeded in raising his personal stature by floating three miles high on his own lawn chair, he continues -- perhaps vainly -- in pursuit of the next big thing. He remains undaunted, even as others beat him to the punch.

But there’s a cost to these ongoing pipedreams. Patience is wearing thin at home.

His desperate non-house wife Helen (a beautifully raw Lauren Katz) is tiring of being the lone family breadwinner and implores Walter to go out and find a real job, even if it means giving up on his dreams. Their emotionally awkward high school son Mikey (a brilliant Jake Cohen) believes so strongly in his father that he lacks any faith in his own capabilities.

That is, until he meets Maria, a chatty pregnant classmate (the tremendously talented Rachel Brosnahan), who not becomes his first real friend, but also provides him with an introduction to a new self-awareness wakened by her free-spirited Aunt Chris (Martha Lavey in one of her two deliciously funny roles from each end of an amazingly wide spectrum).

There is so much to recommend this heartfelt production. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the penultimate scene was what ultimately had my trio of friends and I arguing long and hard afterward about what had just transpired and all it symbolized.

Far be it from me to even allude to what we discussed, but our strikingly disparate conclusions and our eagerness to vociferously debate points to the true genius in Carpenter’s brilliant writing. There aren’t many shows I experience where I’m passionately discussing it long after.

But Carpenter’s work, inspired by true events, is nothing short of inspirational.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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6 Comments:

At 03 July, 2009, Blogger Joseph Gomez said...

I am definitely sticking Chicago on my list of places to go soon. Ever since I really started getting into the theatre thing, Chicago is the one place that I keep hearing about (specifically the Steppenwolf) other than New York city. As soon as my annual NY trip manifests itself again, Chicago is right on the heels. I can't wait. Thanks for keeping me informed and up to date!

A note on Up the movie: absolutely brilliant.

 
At 10 July, 2009, Anonymous Katie said...

Thank you so much for posting your review. I'm in Chicago for a conference and had no idea what to see, so after seeing your review, decided on Up. It was phenomenal and I'm not sure I would've picked it from a list on my own. Thank you again!! :)

 
At 10 July, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Joseph, Yes, by all means, you really need to get to Chicago and see some of the best theatre in the world. Make sure you include Steppenwolf on your itinerary.

 
At 10 July, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Katie, So glad you found me and even more so that you took my advice. It is a terrific show.

Now, would be curious to hear what you thought the ending meant!

 
At 13 July, 2009, Anonymous Katie said...

I would love to hear what you think as well (and what the discussions with your friends were turning up!). I saw it on my own and have been dying to talk about it.

I'm convinced that Walter experienced a mental break and committed suicide.

At one point, Philippe Petit is off doing what he loves, up in the clouds, and says that he's happy there and one day will die while being up in the clouds, after which everything will be okay. His reemergence as the fireman and subsequent pushing of Walter to fly up into the clouds with the paraglider is essentially allowing Walter to die in the place he loves best. The prior attitude of Petit towards death and the draping of that red paraglider across the entire stage just seemed to be a bloody end for me - why else choose red? If Walter could relive one memory or take comfort in that one memory in death, of course it would be that one major accomplishment he has never managed to match in his adult life. Additionally, Carpenter would have been aware of Larry Walters' suicide.

I can see how it could be interpreted as just a mental break (though why not a blue paraglider, then - a peaceful retreat within himself to a happy place?; why have Petit return?), but did you or your friends have another interpretation?

What do you think?

 
At 14 July, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Katie,

You certainly provided one plausible interpretation for the ending, which matched what a couple of my friends thought. Another interpretation from opening night was that he was finally getting on with his life, while a third was that he was renewing his hopes and keeping them alive.

Interesting to note that I had one of those rare opportunities to discuss with the playwright herself on opening night. She was very pleased that we had engaged in such a vigorous conversation. While she said the ending could be whatever the audience member wanted it to be, her intent was ...

Tell you what, send me an e-mail at steve.on.broadway@hotmail.com and I'll reveal it to you.

 

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