Review “Circle-Machine” (Oracle Theatre): Imaginative Spectacle

Saturday, February 7, 2015 Permalink 0

joe-mazza-brave-lux-chicago-oracle-circle-machine-6634Oracle Theatre presents the world premiere adaptation, CIRCLE-MACHINE. 

REVIEWERS DISCLAIMER:  I, unfortunately, had an obscure vantage point.  The show is set up as partial thrust staging.  The bulk seats are on either side of the stage.  Then there is an odd elevated row along the middle wall in-between.  The six seats are recessed and against a column that is the framework for the Berlin Wall.  In the second seat from that column, it’s impossible to see any activity involving the Berlin Wall.  And if the guest in the first seat leans in to see, even more of the action is blocked.  About a 1/3 of the play became audio for me.  The visual interference detached me from my usual visceral Oracle experience.       

Adapters Emma Stanton, Thom Pasculli and Nigel O’Hearn use Charles Mee’s “Full Circle” as the crux for their imaginative spectacle.  It’s 1989.  The Berlin Wall is coming down. In the play within the play, the theatrics of the historical moment is actualized on the stage. At the Berliner Ensemble Theatre, the play in progress is interrupted.  The Artistic Director is being questioned by the Secretary of the Communist Party for his political choices.  That heated discussion is interrupted by protestors.  The Communist Party is over.  The revolution is on. During the upheaval, the Secretary’s wife abandons her child to a fellow audience member, a wealthy American tourist.

The play is primarily about the journey of the American tourist (played by DeChantel Kosmatka as Pamela) and her au pair sidekick (played by Stephanie Shum as Dulle Griet) to get the baby to safety.  The contrast between the two is hilarious and heart-breaking. Kosmatka plays it deliciously aloof and self-absorbed.  The hardened Shum awakens onstage as her maternal instinct overpowers her rebellious nature. When the real mother returns (played by the dark and scrappy Simina Contras as Christa), who should raise the child is the climatic question.  The baby brawl commences.

Pasculli, doubling as director, masterfully navigates this adventure with cyclical fluidity.  Chain link walls pivot.  A makeshift truck circles the country.  The same two guards continually pop up on Kosmatka’s and Shum’s path.  In addition, the scene transitions are seamless as the journey continues.  Pasculli also uses his talented singing 11-member ensemble to make the insurgence harmonious.  There are even feats in this political extravaganza as Kosmatka and Shum walk across rope bridges draped across the stage.  And Shum admirably does it carrying Kosmatka’s high heels, the baby and an oversized piece of the Berlin Wall strapped to her back.

Despite my limited view, the story was captivating. The only speed bump for me was in Part 3 where Kevin V. Smith (Heiner Muller) delivers a passionate yet lengthy soliloquy.  Smith’s speech seems overly-repetitive and an odd choice for this dynamic show.  After his monologue is over, the impressive Smith is literally carried off into power and the show returns to its magnetic personality.

CIRCLE-MACHINE has all the unique fixings of an Oracle offering.  The show melds drama, comedy, music, political intrigue into dark performance art.        

Running Time:  Ninety-five minutes with no intermission

At Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway

Adapted by Emma Stanton, Thom Pasculli & Nigel O’Hearn from “Full Circle” by Charles Mee

Directed by Thom Pasculli

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 7pm

Thru March 14th

Reserve a FREE seat at

Photograph by Joe Mazza.

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

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