Review “The Hammer Trinity” (House Theatre): HAMMER Nails It!

TheHammerTrinity_p3_House2015_013The House Theatre of Chicago presents THE HAMMER TRINITY Plays; Part 1 “The Iron Stag King,” Part 2 “The Crownless King,” and Part 3 “The Excelsior King.”

It’s finished.  The third installment, “The Excelsior King” completes The House Theatre’s epic adventure.  And even though I had already seen the first two, My review “The Iron Stag King” from 2012 and  My review “The Crownless King” from 2013, I wanted to see THE HAMMER TRINITY in its entirety.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my 9 hour binge watch of the “Games of Thrones” meets “Lord of the Rings” with a side of “Spamalot”! 

Playwrights Nathan Allen and Chris Matthews penned an original story of stories.  On the surface, their plays are about the rise of Casper Kent (played by the dashing Kevin Stangler) from orphan nobody to King.  His ascent to the throne has all the obstacles of an innocent overcoming evil to rule.  But this isn’t any ordinary birthright quest, this is a story foretold.  The twist in Allen and Matthews‘ odyssey is that two opposing factions are driving the journey.  Below the main story are the two storytellers; Irek Obsidian (voiced by Tracy Letts) and Hap the Golden (played by William Dick).  Letts and Dick use various means to shift the adventure to their advantage.  Their game playing is on a broader realm that has evolved over decades. This is the larger story.  On a more rudimentary  level, Allen and Matthews weave in a chess player as a crusade strategist (played by the spunky Kara Davidson).  The rules of chess serve as a framework to give the stories order. 

And it needs order because this show is complicated!  But it needs to be complicated to keep people riveted for nine hours.  The phrase “Story save us all” is repeated often.  And truly Allen and Matthews’ story of stories saves us from boredom as we continually try to determine the forces of good and evil. 

Under Allen’s direction, the large, ensemble is tireless and fearless.  Many of the actors play multiple roles with distinction.  They battle it out in a major fight scene, run off the stage and return as an adorable fox (cool puppetry by Designer Jesse Mooney-Bullock).        The action is fierce.  And the cast commit 110% to this marathon.  At the opening, the gallant JJ Phillips, in a very physical role as the viking, dislocated his shoulder during the first part.  Playwright Matthews continued in that role for the second and third part.  The marveling cast adapted to the mid-show replacement and the show went on.  Another blip in the marathon day was a computer glitch that broke the rhythm for five minutes.  Again, the talented cast re-energized and came back full force.  Ah, the unexpected aspect of live theatre!  This is why we’d commit an entire day to experiencing it.     

The ongoing challenge for the audience is deciphering the good guys from the bad guys.  Allen keeps us guessing with actors teetering on the line.  In the original part 1 & 2, Cliff Chamberlain played Hap much more smarmy.  In the TRINITY, Dick plays Hap with an almost Wizard of Oz glint.  His true intentions are hidden under a grandfatherly facade. The elegantly dressed Joey Steakley (Henley) is unapologetically brutal.  At times, Steakley’s coldness is funny and other times it’s just very very disturbing.  Joey Bianco (Davy) is a likable family-man-and-killer.  After playing an amusing rogue under Bianco’s leadership, the suave Christopher Hainsworth (Kaelan) dons a smoking jacket and becomes evil incarnate. In a play with a lot of sinister characters, Hainsworth is most memorable for his sophisticated justification of his genocide inclinations.   

As intense as the fighting is or as dark as the brutal murdering is, Allen and Matthews slyly sneak in plenty of comedy.  The animated Ben Hertel rattles on as a librarian requesting intellectual rights.  Christopher Walsh (no relation) hysterically responds with his signature perfect comedic timing.  Walsh repeatedly with a gesture or one word cracks the audience up.  The gun toting John Henry Roberts (Hollow Thom) plays an impressive range with uproarious deadpan humor and a deep vulnerable sadness.

There are plenty of unforgettable moments in this tantalizing epic.  An outstanding one is when the radiant Kay Kron (July) rides the iron stag in the third part.  The visual is brilliant and amusing.  Her foxes are racing at her side and her cape is flowing.  The effort is greeted with spontaneous applause.  Kron’s soulful performance and her foxes are just a few of the things I loved about this show.   

THE HAMMER TRINITY works beautifully together. The stories are engaging, individually and collectively.  Then, there is this underlying philosophical life nugget that we are all in charge of our own story.  It doesn’t matter who we are told we are or the life someone tries to force on us, we need to live our own story.  I love that overarching message.  And I loved this play, all nine hours of it.  Story Save Us All!   

Running Time:  Nine hours includes four intermissions, 1/2 hour snack break, and an hour dinner break

At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division

Written by Nathan Allen and Chris Matthews

Directed by Nathan Allen

Marathon Performances on Saturdays and Sundays through May 3rd

Part 1:  2pm-4:30pm

Part 2:  5pm-7pm

Part 3:  8pm-11pm

Single Show of Part 3 every Friday (except April 3rd and 17th) at 7:30pm through May 1st

Double Features of Part 1 & 2:  April 3rd and 17th at 7pm-12:15

Buy Tickets at www.thehousetheatre.com

Production photo by Michael Brosilow

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

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