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Review: The Misunderstanding (Theatre Y)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


The Misunderstanding - Theatre Y

The Misunderstanding

Written by Albert Camus
Translated by Graham Ley
Directed by Kevin V. Smith
at Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport (map)
thru August 27  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets

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Final play in Exiled Trilogy proves most effective, profound


The Misunderstanding 3 - Theatre Y

Theatre Y presents


The Misunderstanding

Review by Jason Rost

While I commend the brilliance in Kevin V. Smith’s adaptive direction of Albert Camus’ rarely produced play, The Misunderstanding, I do (very respectfully) disagree with one note he has made in the program for the production. He warns that we should not approach the play “with the goal of understanding it.” Rather, we should end up “feeling” the play. While my argument is purely semantics, as I came away from this Theatre Y production feeling a great deal. However, I would take the stance that the reason I was able to feel so much from his direction, and from the experimental liberties he has taken, is precisely because the story and characters are crystal clear throughout. The issues I had with Smith’s other muddled “Exiled Trilogy” contribution, Exiles by James Joyce, are non-existent within this brave interpretation of Camus’ play. The through-line of the play is always at the surface and progressing, which allows Smith’s conceptual choices to resonate because the audience isn’t lost in the logistics of what’s happening. Smith has frankly undersold himself; he has managed to communicate to his audience’s hearts and intellect.

The Misunderstanding 2 - Theatre Y
Camus was a notable French writer in the the 20th century, winning both the Nobel and the Pulitzer prizes. His most famous work was his 1942 novel, “The Stranger.”  He wrote his play, The Misunderstanding, one year later while living in Nazi-occupied Paris. Smith highlights this time period during the preshow by having his cast read testimonies from Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. He continues to tackle the piece in unconventional but thought-provoking ways.

The story revolves around the character of Jan (played by Smith himself) who has fled his native land and is returning twenty years later to see his mother (another strong performance by Laura Jones) and sister, Martha (Melissa Hawkins). Smith places the two women throughout almost all of the play under a clear tarp, resembling at times a body bag among other symbolic transformations. They run a hotel where they have begun murdering the wealthy guests in an effort to cleanse society.

Jan leaves his wife, Maria (Daiva Bhandari), behind just outside the town where his family resides. Dressed as Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz,” Smith has Bhandari perform an expressionistic dance to a Katy Perry song conveying her relentless love for him. While not all of Smith’s choices are clear, like his drag numbers in The Exiles, they are often thoroughly entertaining and captivating visually. The choreographed movement pieces are a welcome departure from the script and provide an expressionistic look into the inner-lives of the characters.

Jan wishes to visit the hotel of his sister and mother anonymously in order to view them as an outsider. It’s not giving much away, since this Camus’ script is little about the plot, to say that this was a fatal error on Jan. When first arriving his mother and sister sense something different about Jan they aren’t entirely sure of. They plead him to only speak of business and never of feelings upon hearing he is a man of money, so as to make the final deed easier on their consciences. Smith also has made an unconventional casting choice with casting a young boy (Theo Tougne) as the character of the Old Man. It adds a layer of innocence and intrigue to the utilitarian character while also providing another clue that nothing is what it seems in Smith’s interpretation.

The Misunderstanding 3 - Theatre Y
The first and second acts are the most effective in that there is a fascinating slow boil of action throughout. Camus’ third act is weaker, as it becomes more about existential pontificating, yet Smith adds some lovely choices, and Hawkins makes the most out of her eccentricities. A unique haunting stage picture allows for Hawkins to sit in an open window overlooking Pilsen in the darkness while Bhandari’s Maria, who has recently learned of her husband’s death, sits basking in a red light.

Overall, the lighting detracts from some of Smith’s visuals. It is simply too limited and too dark. It often doesn’t live up to the boldness of the other conceptual choices and leaves key moments hidden for long periods of time. I did, however, find the tarp to work brilliantly. It separated two worlds, of life and death, of inside and outside, in an aesthetic fashion. It transformed into objects such as a dress or a flowing river with artistry. Hawkins gives an intensely fascinating performance balancing the warmth and coldness of Martha. As Jan, Smith remains the most human, never letting his heavy handed direction get in the way of honest interaction with the other characters on stage.

As is the case with much of Theatre Y’s work, this production may prove to be off the beaten path for the traditional theatergoer. After seeing the entire “Exiled Trilogy” consisting also of Exiles and Vincent River, I am confident in the importance of this emerging company that is packed with intelligence and worldly experience. In each play of the trilogy, the company’s boldness is to be admired, even when it seems gratuitous or esoteric. One thing is certain for the future of this brazen company: when they fail, they will fail big; and when they succeed, as with The Misunderstanding, they will succeed profoundly.


Rating: ★★★½


The Misunderstanding 1 - Theatre Y

Theatre Y’s The Misunderstanding continues through August 27th at 2150 S. Canalport (map), with performances Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20 (suggested donation), and can be purchased online. More information at




Laura Jones, Melissa Hawkins, Theo Tougne, Kevin V. Smith, Daiva Bhandari

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