WILSON WANTS IT ALL, but doesn’t get it

February 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm 1 comment



The House Theatre of Chicago

Co-written by Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich

Directed by Michael Rohd

Through March 26th

* * (out of 4)

You don’t usually see a whole lot of suits at House productions.  You’re much more likely to see stuff bought at Old Navy, cowboy outfits, giant ice-witch costumes, pretty much anything that says ‘whimsy’ or ‘young adult fiction.’  But currently you’ll see plenty of business clothes on display at the Chopin, home of the House Theatre’s production of Wilson Wants it All.  It shows they are growing up.  The new outfits match the more mature themes and ideas that run through the show.  The House is getting political.  Unfortunately, Wilson is subject to some growing pains.  Compared to other shows out right now that deeply explore intricate and complicated sociopolitical issues, such as TimeLine’s Master Harold…and the Boys or Return to Haifa at Next, Wilson doesn’t past muster.  It looks really cool and has some fun moments, but writer and director team Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich fail to cover any thought-provoking territory or make relevant points with this rather impotent Wilson.

Orwell, anyone?

The plot is sort of a mashup of The Parent Trap and The Manchurian Candidate.  Set in the not-too-distant future of 2040, the play follows Hope (Rebekah Ward-Hays), the daughter of a beloved senator who was assassinated on the day she was born in early 2010.  It would be an understatement to say that there is quite a bit of hype surrounding the woman and her possible political career.  With all this hype comes pressure to perform, and Hope finds an easy way out when she meets Ruth (Leslie Frame), a jobless 30-year-old who, huh, looks exactly like Hope.  All of this is orchestrated by Wilson (an appropriately slippery John Henry Roberts), who is sort of Carl Rove, sort of Rahm Emanuel.  He wants to continue the senator’s dynasty through Hope or Ruth, but is scared to enter the race himself.

All of this is played against a manic America, where all the problems we’re seeing today have just gotten worse.  Overpopulation and unemployment lead to some proposing state-mandated sterilization through a microchip embedded in the body.  I’m not sure of this was intended, but the discussions presented in the play smack of the pro-life/pro-choice debates.

The show succeeds in presenting an intelligent view of the future, one that is extrapolated from our own than totally invented.  Cell phones and computers have become smaller and even more integrated into our world.  Scenic designer Collette Pollard, video artist Lucas Merino, and costume designer Ana Kuzmanic’s work beautifully details this broken empire of an America.   One of the scariest ideas contained in the play is advertisements that follow people around and constantly remind a person where they can find the nearest Laundromat or burger joint.  Unfortunately, this brilliant thought is only presented once or twice, than slid under the rug.

And here is where I’m going to inject my own politic (feel free to skip over).  I’ve always been the political realm is supposed to be sort of noisy and loud, that kinda goes along with democracy.  Not that I believe in pundits taking cheap shots at everything or pointless political speechifying, but Wilson seems to focus primarily on a message of everyone getting along and playing nice.  Also, I think economics needs to be brought to the discussion a lot more.  By the end, all out civil war might be avoided, but no real issues are solved or even discussed further.

Proclaiming that “politics muddles actual issues” is too small a payoff for watching a two-hour-plus production.  I applaud the House for trying something more current events-focused while keeping their crazy, experimental aesthetic.  But when you produce something overtly political, you’re throwing your hat into the ring with some heavy contenders (Brecht, Churchill, Odets, Kushner).  For a play to really strike a chord, it cannot generalize or rehash tropes.  Wilson Wants it All, for all it’s technical wizardry and zippy staging, just doesn’t resonate.

Ticket information here.


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