We have no shortage of talented actors in Chicago, nor in any other of the subset disciplines of theater. The deficiency has always come at the helm. Theater companies tend to serve up the routine pablum and take no chances. (I used to attribute that to the season-subscription factor but now am less sure; banality may be the popular taste.) And, as ever, there arise marvellous exceptions—in Chicago with an unexpected frequency if never regularity.
Oddly, Patrizia Acerra, Executive Director, confided that they tend to draw fewer people from the theatrical community than not in composition of their audience. But this may not be so odd given the provincial outlook of many of our practitioners. Diversity in constitution and makeup would help; as director David Rhee said in the post-performance enforced talkback, Chicago theaters tend to segregate their plays—evidenced by a typical Goodman season quite well—into one Black play here, one Hispanic there, and, with greatest infrequency, an Asian one. Nor is there any reason—to draw on Rhee’s example—that an actor who looks like him should not be permitted to play George Washington.
I ought to add, given the nature of the project, that I was not put off by the immediate segue into a talkback, as I might be at a theatrical performance elsewhere. In the case of Inching Towards Yeolha by Sam-Shik Pai (translated by Walter Byongsok Chin) the audience was much less packed than for Dušan Kovačević’s play last week; either Serbians come out in force to support their own whereas Koreans do not (which seems rather unlikely) or word was not spread effectively in the community. (Koreans in America have no dearth of alternative entertainments.)
The reading was put on in collaboration with Token Theatre Chicago, a new company helmed by David Rhee that has not mounted its first production yet. That will be Our Town by Thornton Wilder (which seems a rather hackneyed choice) albeit with “racially-diverse” casting.
Below: cast of International Voices Project’s Inching Towards Yeolha by Sam-Shik Pai at Instituto Cervantes