In its five-year history, Sideshow Theatre Company has quickly built a reputation on the Chicago theater scene, winning a $25,000 Chase Community Giving grant, a Jeff Award in 2011 and garnering two Jeff nominations in 2012. Their production of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s "Idomeneus," currently running at the DCASE Storefront Theater, is a stunning achievement and one sure to build on these achievements.
Working from David Tushingham’s translation, Jonathan L. Green directs a cast of 15, all of whom are present on stage for the duration. The play has no dialogue, per se. Instead, the cast recites chunks of narration in chorus, in small groups or, rarely, as partners. Similarly, under Katie Spelman’s movement coordination, they act as a single entity, as crowds of citizens and clutches of sailors and as the women left behind. In the play’s one-hour run, not a single gesture, not one slight incline of the head or movement of the eyes is out of place. It’s a gorgeous rendition of history at its moment of birth, dizzying, multi-voiced, multi-threaded and full of lies and truth.
Joe Schermoly’s scenic design gives Green a deep, oblong stage and audience on three sides to work with. (Typically productions in the DCASE space are staged in a standard fourth-wall configuration with no proscenium.) The upstage wall is slats of towering, curved blonde wood, evocative of a cresting wave. The rest of the stage is covered in sand. Upstage left are a couch, a floor lamp and a smaller table lamp secured to the upstage wall. A boulder set downstage right is the only other set piece.
The economical set was no doubt a necessity with the large, omnipresent cast, but there are no obvious limitations born of that. That sense of seamlessness is striking, given that the text is a series of competing narratives jockeying for position. In addition to the carefully crafted set, Green’s able direction and a rock solid cast, the show’s cohesion also leans heavily on both the costume, lighting and sound designs.
Pulses of light allow the cast to move fluidly from place to place, shifting the audience’s attention easily across the tellings and retellings of the story. Combined with Christopher M. LaPorte and Michael Huey’s subtle sound design, Mac Vaughey’s lighting makes set feel open and expansive, claustrophobic, intimate or dangerous and impersonal as the moment dictates.
The costumes, designed by Kristin DeiTos, are suggestive of both setting and character. Given that most of the actors play multiple "roles" this is no mean feat: A twined metallic headband and a draped blouse brings Meda, wife of Ideomeneus, to life, but also lets the actress blend into the crowd of mourning women. Striped shirts, kerchiefs and slim-legged pants suggest sailors and a linen jacket implies a slimy slave trader and womanizer. But the costume design is most remarkable in its exquisite blend of colors and patterns. As the actors constantly shifted from group to group, those who were moving and speaking together always formed a cohesive visual as well.
The nature of the show makes it virtually impossible to call out specific performances for special mention. Of course, given the nature of the piece it’s a compliment, in context, to say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
"Idomeneus" plays through September 23 at DCASE Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph, Chicago. For tickets call Brown Paper Tickets 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.sideshowtheatre.org.