The first time Chicago Shakespeare Theater brought them to town, in 2011, Australia’s One Step at a Time Like This gave us En Route—a 90-minute theatrical walkabout that used personal tech (earphones, cell, an MP3 player) to lead audiences of one on a witty, revelatory excursion through downtown Chicago. The revelation wasn’t particular. Sure, participants discovered what might be called clues: messages in alleys, bits of clothing draped on chairs. But those finds didn’t advance a plot, disclose a secret, or trigger a crisis. Instead they invited us to a wider awareness than we usually permit ourselves. “Somewhere along the line,” I wrote at the time, “the soundtrack, the changes of scene, the instructions, the indeterminacy of it all combined to tear me loose from my intentions and allow me to do the sort of seeing that starts with a willingness to tell yourself you’ve got nowhere else to be and nothing you need to do. I temporarily forgot to want anything.”
Now One Step is back, with an experience that’s at once the same and very different.
Like its predecessor, Since I Suppose is peripatetic. Issued a smartphone and headset, I received prompts that took me across the Loop by way of—among other stops—a church, a bar, a CTA station, an adult bookstore, a high-rise, two theaters (one operating, the other ruined), City Hall, the downtown pedway, and a car ride during which I wore a blindfold. The crucial distinction was that this time my travels served a narrative. Since I Suppose is an eccentric adaptation of Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s tale of superficially pious, secretly slimy Angelo, who uses his clout to coerce a nun, Isabella, into having sex with him.
The imposition of a drama can be just that—an imposition. I’d yearned for something like the liberating pilgrimage of En Route, but except for one sweet passage involving the State Street Bridge, Since I Suppose is grueling. Running about 150 minutes, it’s dark rather than mysterious, confining rather than expansive. Even tedious at times, if you’re familiar with the play, since the plot is narrated more than it’s performed. And something I didn’t know until now: wearing a blindfold in a moving car makes you want to hurl.
Still, queasiness is an appropriate response to the pervasive ugliness of Measure for Measure. There are moments, moreover, that I expect will stick with me for a good while: A disembodied voice whispering disconcerting questions in my ear. Another voice issuing from a crack between two buildings. Some high-quality sleight of hand. The heft of a human head in my hands. The deep creepiness of a close encounter with Angelo. And most of all, the final image of Since I Suppose, which starkly, powerfully sums up Isabella’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, damned-just-for-living situation.