Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Magnolia flowers, roots, trees, scents...

I went to see Regina Taylor's new play Magnolia at the Goodman Theater in downtown Chicago this past weekend. It was my first time, I must confess, at the Goodman, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a nice simple theater, well laid out and not overwhelmingly huge. A normal proscenium stage.

The play is about the last days of a family plantation near Atlanta in the '60s; the black branch of the family has risen as the white branch has declined into frustration and alcoholism. It could have been a tense character-driven drama, but the playwright was evidently determined to make the play a survey of the sixties, referencing everything from hippies, the space race, Martin Luther King, Jr., the still-popular Gone with the Wind, the urge for women's liberation, Peyton Wall, Birmingham... I don't even know what else. I could have forgiven this if it hadn't also been for the sledgehammer metaphors about magnolias that were constantly repeated and mixed up with other metaphors about looking down on earth from space. Most of the characters turned into types rather than people, but were splendidly acted (and sung). They made the most of their few snappy lines, which drew laughs from the very appreciative audience. Excellent staging, and certainly an enjoyable evening, but I don't think this play is destined for big things.

ETA: I forgot to say, in case it wasn't already obvious, that the play is a takeoff on Chekhov's Cherry Orchard. I seem to have seen quite a lot of these ethnic updates of classic dramas lately.

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