Walkabout Theater Company at Steppenwolf Garage. Directed by Thom Pasculli. Dramaturgy by Kendra Miller. Created with Nigel Brown, McCambridge Dowd-Whipple, Al Evangelista, Cooper Forsman, Katie Mazzini, Dana Murphy, Paul Scudder. 1hr; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Walkabout Theater Company is an adventurous group that produces only occasionally, often in unexpected places, and with no show offering any clue as to what the next might look like. I’ve seen the company stage anthologies in a church’s darker corners (last year’s All Rise), mount a gentrification comedy in a coffee shop (2010’s The Pigeons) and consider Captain Streeter in a community garden (2008’s War Garden), among other works, and I’m still kicking myself nine years later for missing 2005’s highly-praised, Laundromat-set Psycho-So-Matic.
Walkabout’s latest, staged as part of the latest Garage Rep at Steppenwolf, is an entrancing if occasionally stymieing hourlong piece of sensual physical theater. The Wild studies questions of pleasure and taboo through a framework very loosely based on The Bacchae, as reinterpreted through the manic mash-up stylings of playwright Charles Mee.
The Wild director Thom Pasculli and the lithe ensemble constructed their devised piece using pieces of Mee’s The Bacchae 2.1, which itself draws from texts as varied as teenage diarist Mary MacLane’s 1902 I Await the Devil’s Coming and Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto to reconsider Dionysus, the Bacchae and fun-squelcher Pentheus.
Walkabout’s ensemble weaves in additional texts including Tracy Letts’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife”; another passage of repeated dialogue I couldn’t quite place reminded me of a Howard Hawks romantic comedy. The prominent placement of a theremin-and-radio-static sound machine suggests the collage of competing signals here; this is frankly the kind of work that could make you long for an appendix, or a DVD commentary track.
But that also suggests how much The Wild’s curious construction, sumptuous visuals and seductive physicality could leave you wanting a second go at it. The incredible Where the Wild Things Are–style creature costumes created by Paul Scudder and the ensemble just for the preshow are nearly worth the $20 admission to enter this captivatingly untamed wilderness.