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The Architect, Cobalt Ensemble Theatre, at Chicago Dramatists. Like Patrick Marber and Conor McPherson, Scotsman David Greig represents a new generation of playwrights across the Atlantic writing with a confidence, intelligence, and humanity unmatched on this side of the ocean. Here Greig (who also authored the engrossing Europe, performed last year by Mary-Arrchie) offers a riveting drama of family dysfunction and social criticism, drawing an intriguing parallel between an architect’s dissolving family and the troubled low-cost housing project he designed. In both cases, a seemingly uncontroversial facade disguises pain and hardship. The play’s themes and explosive conclusion suggest Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, though Greig writes from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Architect Leo Black is the patriarch of a crumbling family: his wife is neurotic and depressive, his son is involved in a vaguely sadomasochistic relationship with a suicidal street hustler, and his daughter has hitched a ride with a married trucker and run away from home. Though a few plot twists are somewhat schematic, Greig writes with great wit and sensitivity even at his most melodramatic, and every character is fully realized, engaging, and sympathetic. Cobalt’s seamless ensemble performs the play with great conviction; Glenn Fahlstrom as Leo Black and Todd Behrend as his son deliver especially fine performances. Though multiple scene changes present some minor difficulties in this spare production, Cobalt provides a consistently fascinating staging of a challenging, exciting work. –Adam Langer