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Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)   
The Roper 

Written by Will Dunne
Directed by Ron Wells
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru April 13  |  tickets: $25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Get roped into a fantastic true story


Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)


The Den Theatre presents


The Roper

Review by Keith Glab

“There’s nothing more dangerous than stupid men
who think they have a good idea.”

Teeming with great one-liners, big characters, and a plotline you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t know it was based on a true story, the world premiere of Will Dunne’s The Roper continues The Den Theatre’s rise to eminence in the Chicago storefront theater scene.

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)
It’s Chicago in 1876, and Lewis Swegles (Tony Bozzuto) hopes for a shot at redemption after spending time in jail for stealing horses. Captain Tyrell (Brad Woodard) of the U.S. Secret Service hires Swegles as a roper to infiltrate a gang of Irish counterfeiters. When Swegles gains their confidence, he uncovers a plot to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. He accompanies the perpetrators on their illegal expedition to Springfield to allow the Captain to catch them in the act, but things don’t go quite as planned. Swegles gets torn between sympathizing with the ruffians and establishing a personal legacy as a defender of Abraham Lincoln.

Dunne, an accomplished playwright, is at the top of his game here. He takes a little-known yet enthralling story from nearly 140 years ago and successfully adapts it into a well-paced two-hour stage drama filled with comedy. His characters are given complexity, and he fleshes out the story without making it drag. Ron Wells realizes the script with two phenomenal sets courtesy of Andrew Hildner, first an authentic 19th-century saloon (complete with an animate snake),then an extravagant tomb that proves very functional for both the script’s needs and audience sightlines. Cat Wilsons lighting gives the production an old-timey feel without compromising visual clarity and indulges in a couple of welcome cheesy moments, too.

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)
Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)
Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)

Wells’ cast is equally up to the task, portraying big characters without sacrificing their three-dimensionality. Bozzuto plays Swegles’ dual nature with subtlety and clarity. Michael Downey excels as Terrence Mullen, a saloon owner who menaces with a mere glance. Ted Hoerl gives an interesting take on Jack Hughes, portraying the infamous counterfeiter as someone with whom you’d like to be buddies. Woodard’s Tyrell has enough buffoonery in him to be comical, but not so much as to take us out of the reality of the piece. John Luzar and Robert Koon deliver excellent contrast in their dual roles: Luzar as both the scholarly narrator and a nervous hack driver; Koon as both a rough barfly and the prim curator of Lincoln’s tomb.

You could nitpick at a couple of botched lines on opening night, a couple of mixed metaphors in the script, or an unbelievable plot device involving a cigar, but The Roper is so well-executed on so many levels that you wouldn’t want to. For a truly enjoyable night of theatre, allow yourself to get roped in by this fantastic true story.


Rating: ★★★½



The Roper continues through April 13th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Review: The Roper (The Den Theatre)

Photos by Joe Mazza 




Tony Bozzuto (Lewis Swegles), Michael Downey (Terrence Mullen), Ted Hoerl (Jack Hughes), Robert Koon (Herbert Nelson), John Luzar (William Nealy), Brad Woodard (Patrick Tyrrell).

behind the scenes

Ron Wells (director), Andrew Hildner (set design), Rachel S. Parent (costumes), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Mikey Moran (sound design), Vivian Knouse (props), Amanda Rozmiarek (technical director), Ellen DeSitter (production manager), Rebecca Butler (stage manager), Joe Mazza (photos)


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