NELSON ALGREN: FOR KEEPS AND A SINGLE DAY, Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. Adapter-director-filmmaker John Musial’s unconditional love of Nelson Algren and deft understanding of the writer’s thorny relationship with Chicago drive this jazz-infused collage of 12 Algren pieces. Thom Cox brings an understated ruefulness to the narration, and his skillful, nuanced interactions with Musial’s films and Dave Pavkovic’s cool, propulsive score highlight the text’s admirable range.
Drawn largely from Algren’s brilliant 1951 Chicago: City on the Make and the 1973 Last Carousel, the stories include “Silver Colored Yesterday,” in which a displaced Sox fan comes to grips with the hostilities of a north-side sandlot and the betrayals of the Black Sox scandal. In “Everything Inside Is a Penny,” a childish prank coincides with a suicide in a chilling metaphor that ties together the city’s buoyancy and despair. Musial’s films include an awe-inspiring series of the skyline shot from the surface of Lake Michigan, and he’s assembled an impressive array of talent for his cinematic vignettes (including Jeff Dorchen as a mysterious lamplighter in “Penny”).
The evening doesn’t arc successfully; it builds to what feels like a natural ending only to continue for a couple more stories. But it succeeds as a heartfelt celebration of Algren’s work and as an exploration of the ongoing struggle between “the hustlers and the squares” for the soul of the city.