Review “The Wild Party” (Bailiwick Chicago): Boozy, Groping, Tripping, Hot Mess

Saturday, October 11, 2014 Permalink

thewildparty-1-jpg-20141010Bailiwick Chicago presents THE WILD PARTY.

The title says it all!  Director and choreographer Brenda Didier skillfully throws a party and it’s wild!  Set in the roaring 20’s, the story is about the vaudeville shenanigans after the curtain comes down.  Queenie (played with moxie by Danni Smith) is everyone’s favorite good time gal. She rocks it onstage and offstage.  Her boyfriend Burrs (played with animated intensity by Matthew Keffers) has ambitions beyond their two-bit show.  When they throw a party, Burrs woos prospective producers.  Queenie woos the room. The bash escalates into a boozy, groping, tripping, hot mess.              

The spectacle starts out on a vaudeville stage and moves into a three room flat.  Scenic Designer Megan Truscott aids the fluid movement with her stunning functionality. She frames the vaudeville schtick with curtains and beams.  The cut-out box visual on the massive curtain backdrop builds an illusion of smallness.  The ‘smallness’ defines the kind of show-within-the-show we are experiencing.  It also reduces the space between audience and cast. When Didier fills the shallow staging with her energetic dozen+ ensemble, the intimacy is ballsy.  In the limited space, we are apart of the theatric chaos. 

Then, the curtains and beam frames lift.  We are transported behind the curtain -literally- to a performer’s home with a bedroom, living room, bathroom.  Truscott uses a skeleton structure so every room is visible.  She designs it so there’s a fire escape landing cleverly positioned outside the bathroom.  Even when the shindig is in full swing in the middle room, Didier orchestrates activity in the outer rooms.  The silent scenes help in character development.  Keffers is brooding in the bathroom while Danni Smith is frolicking in the bedroom.  Meanwhile, the guests are getting rip-roaring smashed. Where to look?  There is something going on in every nook. The show is more like a visual feast than party.  At one point, as the party-goers break into a flapperistic dance number, a deliciously wasted Sasha Smith (Sally) steals focus. Sasha Smith is one beat off dancing, singing, and laughing.  She’s the party train wreck and it’s mesmerizing. 

THE WILD PARTY has it all!  The terrific guests are a collection of dynamic misfits.  The hosts mix up the drinks and the drama.  There is even a little love in the lusty partner swapping.  Didier throws a dazzling soiree and then she crashes it into a heap.  The glamour of showbiz is an act in itself.  The reality behind the alcohol, drugs, and sex is a soulful hollowness.   There is plenty to contemplate in the party wreckage.  It’s just that there is too much time spent partying and regretting. The speed bump to me was the length.  The story gets bogged down in song.  There are 37 of them… some reprised. A few songs from the end, I found myself silently wishing the party was over.  Michael John LaChiusa (music, lyrics, book) belabors the obvious with one more tune.  I enjoyed THE WILD PARTY but it turned me into a party pooper.                       

Running Time:  The announcement is 90 minutes with no intermission.  My show was two hours with no intermission

At Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln

Based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March

Music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa

Book by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe

Directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier

Musical direction by Aaron Benham

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Thru November 1st

Buy Tickets at www.victorygardens.com

For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.

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