Of the many consequences rippling out from last year’s malignant election, like heavy elements thrown off by a collapsing star, perhaps the most benign has been the efflorescence of pleas for religious tolerance on Chicago’s stages, from CST’s “Merchant of Venice” to Lookingglass’s “Manuscript Found at Saragossa.” Chicago Festival of the Arts, in a remarkably auspicious debut, offers the most fully formed such statement in its production of Enlightenment philosopher Gotthold Lessing’s fable of the Crusades, “Nathan the Wise,” as adapted by Paul D’Andrea. However depressing it may be to recognize that, two centuries later, debates over whose god is bigger remain reliably potent, Lessing’s play holds an undeniable message for us. While on the page the Jewish merchant Nathan’s relatively unmixed benevolence and wisdom leave him a little remote, Chicago veteran David Darlow invests him with a thrilling and tangible humanity. Darlow’s superlative performance is strongly backed by turns from Michael Fosberg as the sympathetic Muslim sultan Saladin and Kevin McKillip’s vigorous, cape-waving Knight Templar. Director Rachel Silverman and scenic designer Linda Buchanan make terrific use of the Theatre Building space, embellishing Lessing’s drama with gentle flourishes, like the abstract fire that threatens Nathan’s daughter Recha (Brooke Hardman), without thereby drawing attention away from the intricate plot and the people caught within it. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.