In the film The Big Short, there is a moment where the narrator directly asks the audience if they are bored yet. This is fresh off of the heels of a detailed description of the financial choreography behind the 2008 housing collapse, and yes, I indeed was feeling a little bored. However, the question makes an important point: machinations and the players behind white collar crimes do not always make for compelling stories. Classic heroes and villains are replaced with faceless institutions and regulators; something human is lost when converting these archetypes into collective interests.
Enter: Labyrinth. Set in the late 1970’s right on the precipice of the Latin American debt crisis, the production follows the very human story of John Anderson as he ascends the corporate ladder but descends into moral bankruptcy and madness. The audience starts with John on his first day, and then watches as he transforms from green employee to ruthless loan shark.
The story and setting are captivating. The production has an engaging blend of personal story beats as John travels the world selling credit, but also mixes in historical facts to ground the narrative in an established time and place. The immersion of the show is top notch, and Broken Nose theatre should be commended for their stage direction (Spenser Davis) and costume design (Rachel Sypniewski) which are incredibly accurate to the setting. It is impressive to see how much the ensemble can transform a small space into both a Brazilian beach and a New York high rise to paint vivid pictures of John's global travels. This is even further highlighted by expert choreography (Davis and assistant director Ben F. Locke) and ensemble direction that provide a production value that punches well above its budget.
Moreso though, is the strength of the acting. John’s transformation is expertly played by William Anthony Sebastian Rose II, showing comfort and ability to express all aspects of John’s evolution. Frank (Darren Jones), John’s father, also deserves special commendation: his devilish, desperate, and insane con-man smile stucks with you well after the last scene. The entire cast does a fantastic job playing the distinct roles of a morally corrupt financial machine.
However, not all story elements work together to form a cohesive whole in Labyrinth. The production puts a heavy emphasis on showing John’s moral decay as dream sequences and pseudo-schizophrenic fits that ultimately do not resonate with the rest of the show. It often feels as if John’s moral decay is divorced from the rest of the production and the circumstances which the audience originally believed were driving John’s decision making.
Expressing John’s descent into immorality through these mental episodes is unfortunate because the play doesn’t rely on these tropes. A dinner scene with a reporter shows a well-paced, cutting dialogue between the two that begins to place John’s character more firmly on one side of the looming debt crisis. I do understand what they were going for by emphasizing these sequences, but when taken as a complete offering, they don’t always mesh with the narrative in a satisfying way. If you can forgive certain story beats, this surreal, white collar crime thriller is well worth your time. (Ryan Moore)
Labyrinth continues at The Den Theatre through Feb. 29. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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