Culture Magazine


By Zer @the2women


It was early October of 1871 in Chicago when the city was transformed forever by a blaze that came to be known as the Great Chicago Fire.  It’s a story we’re all at least vaguely familiar with.

For most of us, we know there was a fire, and it was in Chicago.  Plus, there was something about a cow and that forgetful Mrs. O’Leary.

In reality, the blaze lasted two days,destroyed four square miles of the city, and changed Chicago forever.

Now, 140 years later the Lookingglass Theatre Company reignites this moment in history in their new production of “The Great Fire,” written and directed by ensemble member John Musial.

And so with that, as promised (in last Sunday’s blog) here’s 2WC’s (Zer and Stephanie respectively) premiere theater review in true 2WC style:

The Story:

In “The Great Fire,” playwright John Musial has created a truly unique work.  The play brings together the tragedy, satirical humor and raw human experience of this catastrophic event.  It is both a historical piece, and a modern-day commentary on human nature, government inaction and over reaction.  All of this is wrapped up neatly in a collection of personal accounts told by a collection of connected, but very different characters who all shared in this tragic event.

It’s a familiar story that most of us (historians and pyrom…I mean…fire enthusiasts aside) actually know very little about. Part entertainment, part history lesson, it’s an episodic account told from the reminiscent perspective of multiple classes, ages, and even theatrical genres; with tragedy and Fire (personified by the delightfully impish Lindsey Noel Whiting) tying them all together.  The destructive force of Fire pitted against the resilient spirit of a city and its people make for an enlightening and inspiring tale.

The Scene:

How do you start a fire without a match?  Well, a little imagination, a talented actress and a lot of confetti.  With a large chunk of Chicago to play with, the set for “The Great Fire,” could have been almost anything.  A collection of seemingly unimportant items stacked on shelves, a bare, wooden floor and houses dangling above the stage make up this simple scene.  The items gain their meaning and the set comes to life with the help of the Fire (Lindsey Noel Whiting), some beautiful choreography and a few surprises.

It’s incredibly rare that comparing an actor to a set piece would be seen as a compliment. Today I’d like to make an exception.  Lindsey Noel Whiting as the Fire is the context, setting, and plot of this show. She’s there when you first enter the theater and stays until the bitter end.   The stage is her playground and she uses it to the fullest.   Assisted by showers of confetti, falling shelves, incredibly moving choreography and some rather peppy musical numbers, Fire is perhaps the most vibrant and mobile piece of scenery you’ll ever see.   Of course the rest of the set does a pretty good job too, puppets, pianos, and plummeting houses and shelves are quite literally crashing down around them at times, but much like the destruction of the Fire, it is quickly put aside and life moves forward.

The People:

A strong collection of versatile actors, the ensemble cast of “The Great Fire” features Thomas J. Cox, Kevin Douglas, Troy West, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Stephanie Diaz and Gary Wingert.  All play their multiple parts with ease, and transition effortlessly from upper to lower class and even male to female (and vice versa).  However, the real star of the show is the Fire.  The talented Lindsey Noel Whiting shines as the human embodiment of the destruction, passion, unpredictability and harshness of the flames that consumed Chicago.  While volumes could be written on the decision to make the Fire female, Ms. Whiting’s performance does not bring this detail to the forefront.  She brings to life the playfulness, cruelty, compassion and indifference of “The Great Fire.”

This company is the definition of versatility in this show.  Aside from Fire they seamlessly transform (sometimes in an instant) from character to character and are equally convincing as each. The stories of these people are just as impressive and touching. Aldermen, fire captains, lower class families, wealthy lawyers, and children alike are equally represented (although some with perhaps a bit more skepticism) and equally memorable.  

The Big Picture (In Unison):

Although the Great Chicago Fire was perhaps the most destructive event in the city’s history, Lookingglass’s production of “The Great Fire” is anything but calamitous.  With a subject matter that is close to home, this production gains more poignancy from its location—staged in the very Water Tower which played such a pivotal role in the events themselves. 

The story, cast and setting all come together to illuminate this oft overlooked defining moment in Chicago’s history.


More Info:

What: The Great Fire

When: Now through November 20, 2011 (Performances are Wed-Sun)

Where: Lookingglass Theatre (821 N Michigan Ave; Chicago, IL 60611)

…just for fun:

Happy Birthday to Groucho Marx-

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