Review “Martyr” (Steep Theatre): Relatable and Terrifying

Saturday, April 18, 2015 Permalink

11110811_10153167722106181_1907213943159866387_nSteep Theatre Company presents the U.S. Premiere of MARTYR.

Parents fear many things altering their child’s life.  Pregnancy, drugs, and gangs are tangible threats.  But sometimes it’s the unanticipated and abstract influences that can do the most harm.  Playwright Marius von Mayenburg explores the impact of religion on an impressionable teen.

Brando Crawford (Benjamin) has been ditching classes, specifically; swimming.  When Cindy Marker (mom) confronts him on it, he claims it goes against his religion.  Her comeback is that he isn’t religious.  That’s where the play starts.  And in the next couple hours, Crawford goes from sullen youth to zealous prophet.   

In MARTYR, Mayenburg explores the dangers of Christian fundamentalism.  It’s particularly disconcerting because Crawford’s conversion is based on his own self-guided interpretation of the bible.  He shuns the school pastor.  He has no religious education credentials.  He’s merely a self-appointed messenger of God.  And in that role, the relentless Crawford works to have girls banned from bikini wearing, evolution stricken from the curriculum, homosexuality seen as deviant behavior and Jews hated for their non-christian beliefs. 

Director Joanie Schultz paces this with religious fervor.  It begins as a snowball and turns into an avalanche.  The chalkboard lined walls announce the play at the beginning in fine penmanship.  As the show goes along, words, phrases and symbols are scribbled, erased, and scratched out.  The chalk jotting reinforces the spiraling activity.  At one point, masked students are overturning desks and throwing chairs.  The desperate Kendra Thulin (teacher) writes in big bold letters:  INTERMISSION.  She needs a break.  And the audience does too.          

MARTYR is intense.  It’s super-charged with biblical propaganda.  Mayenburg does weave in humor.  There are the moments of such religious absurdity that awkward chuckling is a natural reaction.  And then there are the other extremisms that bring comedy.  An unapologetic Marker holds the school accountable because she never spends time with her kid. Claire Saxe (Lydia) delivers teen vamp with gusto.  And the imprudent Walter Brody (headmaster) sidesteps responsibility at a farcical level.        

The program and lobby feature interviews with Mayenburg.  He discusses how in Germany religion and government lines are blurred.  Religion is taught in schools.  Crosses appear in courthouses.  In MARTYR, Mayenburg shows “that you can take the bible and make it the source of an extremist ideology that deeply contradicts our democratic values.”  Even though he is talking about Germany, this concept is timely to the United States especially in the wake of the ridiculous Indiana Religious Freedom Act.  Mayenburg’s play is not only relatable, it’s terrifying!      

Running Time:  Two hours includes an intermission

At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn

Written by Marius von Mayenburg

Directed by Joanie Schultz

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Thru May 23rd

Buy Tickets at www.steeptheatre.com

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

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