Valparaiso, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. There’s a claustrophobic feeling to Frank Galati’s production of Don DeLillo’s play, a suffocating sensation one might also feel upon entering a fun house or hall of mirrors. Like DeLillo’s protagonist–a schnook named Michael Majewski who achieves 15 minutes of talk-show fame when he winds up in Valparaiso, Chile, instead of Valparaiso, Indiana–the audience feels adrift, dislocated.
This is the point, of course. Postmodern pop-culture satirist DeLillo (White Noise, The Day Room) critiques a media-saturated society in which individuals feel disconnected from their own selves. The words spoken by DeLillo’s characters exemplify this: “I felt remote,” says one, “I felt a tremendous separation.” “I barely know myself in a mirror,” says another. With its lacquered black stage, steel bars, 11 glowing television sets, and often detached, declamatory, echoing, overmiked performances, Galati’s production well reflects DeLillo’s clinical, academic approach, more often concerned with subtext than text. The jarring but effective opening employs a barrage of projected images and haunting whispered dialogue about the alienation produced by traveling through life and space.
But if Majewski’s story is essentially an antiquest in which a man’s journey reveals how little he knows himself, Valparaiso is an antiplay. One feels the greatest emotional connection with others not during the icy, repetitive work itself but afterward, when one can reenter the world of humanity, which is thankfully a good distance off from DeLillo’s cold universe.