Theater Review by John Owen Glines
2.5 out of 4 stars
Scapegoat; Or (Why the Devil Always Loved Us), is a political drama concerning how we deal with religious beliefs in the government. Senator Porter (played by Norm Woodel) comes under fire after a bill making its way through Congress brings his beliefs into the limelight. His wife, Eleanor (Barbara Figgins), and the rest of the family are up in arms over the bill. Senator Porter’s son Coyote (Evan Linder), also in Congress, is meanwhile on the fence, as a few other Congressmen and women (John Kelly Connolly, Jack McCabe, and Kelli Strickland) are convincing him to join their side.
A small pamphlet which came with the ticket featured a glossary and short description about the main issue this play tackles. It was a cool way to set the scene, and I wish more companies did this. I also wish I saw it before the play started--I had trouble initially keeping up with the exceptional character relations.
Senator Porter and his lobbyist wife have a son and two daughters, Ieza (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) and Margaret (Echaka Agba). The Senator’s Chief of Staff (Jeffrey Owen Freelon Jr.) is also his son-in-law, who is a soon-to-be father. The Porters’ son is also in Congress, and is still dealing with the passing of his wife. You might be very confused about all this had you missed reading the provided pamphlet, as you’re sort of thrown into the middle of the story. There's a good deal of melodrama in the play--perhaps to be expected with a setting so politically charged--but it at times felt a bit much when added on top of the family dynamics. Satanism, Islam, Godly visions, evangelicals, and pregnancy all combine in one family to make for some predictably chaotic dynamics. It's unrealistic and felt slightly contrived, but the play deals with hypothetical ‘what-ifs’ throughout, so the delivery isn’t as grating as you might think.
While the set-design itself didn’t foreshadow any weighty rhetoric (apart from an imposing portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in the middle), it did provide cool ways to transition from scene to scene. The stage was divided into two(ish) halves, for two(ish) sets: a Senator’s office, another Senator’s house, and between them, enough space to conveniently hold a conference--which allowed for some surprising and amusing cracking of the fourth wall.
The sound design (Steve Labedz) was well done, with a mix of works composed specifically for the show and some other works. The costume design (Liesl Krieger) was equally on-point, with sloppy Congressmen wearing oversized suits, young professionals who actually dress like young professionals, and Satanists who, well, dress like Satanists.
With nearly 30 world premieres under their belt (the fact that each play they put on is written specifically for them may have something to do with it), it's hard to say this isn't a play worth seeing. Scapegoat runs upstairs at the Den Theater in Wicker Park from April 20th to May 7th. Curtain times on Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays are 7:30pm; 3pm on Sundays. Tickets are $20 (25% off for students/seniors), and can be found at www.thenewcolony.org.
I've had the fortune of being born to a painter, and since childhood have been involved in the arts in some form or another. After attaining degrees in Music Performance and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University, and after being exposed to the wonderful theater scene there, I realized I'd benefit as an artist if I continued contributing to the community. I believe an important part to being an artist is having exposure to as many sorts of Art as possible. Theater is one of the most variegated arts, and I feel all the richer for playing the small role I have in the Chicago theater scene (hopefully, Chicago is all the richer for having me!)