Big Mouth @ Chicago Shakespeare Theater

4 Stars out of 4

Words mean something. 

Even in a Post Truth World where Leaders attempt to call Fiction into Reality with Spokesmanship, we pay attention to the human voice and what it says and does not say.  For the next two weeks only, in the Upstairs Theatre of Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier,  Belgian performer Valentijn Dhaenens creates Big Mouth, an important, brilliant, thought provoking work made entirely of his voice and the words of, with one exception, men, drawn from human’s vast history of oration. Dhaenens is  a daring and skilled vocal gymnast, able to create the silky smooth oily power of a Spanish Grand Inquisitor and the stuttering panic of Nicco Sacco, as well as a convincing impression of George Bush . This 85 minute with no intermission tour de force performance is something every thinking person should see right now: it is a perfect remembrance of the tragedy of 9/11, it stands as a counterpoint to the current administration and it is a highly unusual experience.  It is history and it is humanism: it is a tonic for our time.


As with many of the works on the” must see” Chicago Shakes World Stage Global Theatre series, the piece defies easy classification and succinct description.  It borrows from the MC tradition with a single person at a table surrounded by microphones.  The progression of words is reminiscent of performance poetry.  The collage of voices and Dhaenens physical embodiment of the voices reminds me of the work of Anna Deveare Smith.  But what the work IS ceases to be the question as it moves from Socrates to Goebbels, from Pericles to Anne Coulter.  The jaw dropper is the Osama Bin Laden speech: it will change you. The key here is what the piece MEANS to you as it mixes with all the voices in your head, the voices you have heard in your personal history.  It is fascinating that this work feels so American when it was created by a Belgian artist for a European audience.  It is quite a mirror held up for us to see ourselves, but its overarching theme deals with our fear and hatred of anyone not like “us”, so perhaps it’s my own arrogance that thinks this show is about me.

Dhaenens weaves acapella song into the mix, starting with Gregorian chanting and ending with a haunting Nat King Cole tune that will leave you in the dark with your brain spinning and your heart open. After you leave the theatre you will find yourself looking up some of the words Dhaenens has brought to life.  You may want to go back and hear it again.


Big Mouth is a World Stage Production from Belgium and is the first of three productions that are part of a Big In Belgium series featuring cutting edge work from the Flemish part of Belgium that has been featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  All of the the series is short run, so do not hesitate to get tickets: Big Mouth is running at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s  Upstairs Theatre only now through September 22nd. .For tickets and information go to  or call 312-596-5600.

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