REVIEW: 'O Beautiful' an ingenious satire

REVIEW: 'O Beautiful' an ingenious satire

By Tricia Stiller

It was a unique and unexpected prologue that greeted us Thursday night as we arrived at the Krannert Center Studio Theatre for the opening of Theresa Rebeck's edgy social commentary, "O Beautiful." The state-of-the-art venue was celebrating its 45th year, and the lobby was filled to near capacity with people from every time and place in life.

Senior citizens, in their finery still enjoying the dying art of conversation, blended by circumstance with millennials tweeting about the challenges and apparent futility of their chosen career path. It was the perfect atmosphere in which to ready myself for what I had anticipated would be a very powerful and thought-provoking theatrical production.

Rebeck's writing did not disappoint. Known for being a risk-taker, Rebeck, at the request of the University of Delaware, penned this sharp and disturbing satire in 2011, ingeniously bringing together today's extreme political thinkers and forcing a dialogue with the ghosts of Founding Fathers Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Franklin, along with St. Paul, Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ himself, all in the hopes of finding the right answers. There's the rub, as Jesus points out on a road trip to Connecticut — right for whom?

The story follows the lives of contemporary high school students, each with a backpack full of angst. Alice Fletcher, the good girl, finds herself pregnant after being date-raped in the back seat of car. Classmate Lennie Ryan is horribly bullied after a humiliating blunder at the school talent show. The other students are against learning anything outside of the text book, and their parents protest a new history teacher who dares to encourage independent thinking.

Meanwhile, a political news show seen as the source for truth pushes the panic button, encouraging people to embrace the Second Amendment and arm themselves for another American Revolution. Finally, after a senseless tragedy divides the town, Jesus admits that no one really listens, and Benjamin Franklin adds, "We were just people. We didn't have all the answers either."

Directed by Gina Rattan, this impressive offering with a sizable ensemble moves swiftly from scene to scene, employing multimedia nuances that added a palpable depth to the production. Kudos to technical director Jason Lee Huerta, and projections designer Joseph A. Burke for their contributions, which resulted in an evening we were still talking about over morning coffee.

Due to mature subject matter and adult language, this production is not recommended for younger or more sensitive viewers.

If you go

What: "O Beautiful" by Theresa Rebeck

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and April 9-12, 3 p.m. April 13

Where: Studio Theatre at the Krannert Center, University of Illinois

Cost: $10-$18

Running time: 2 hours, 33 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Tricia Stiller serves as director for the McLean County Diversity Project's Theatre Program, the Miller Park Summer Theatre Program and the Penguin Project McLean County. She can be contacted at triciastiller@msn.com.

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