Windy City Playhouse is trying to tell us something about parties: they’re dramatic as hell. Between “Southern Gothic” and “The Boys in the Band,” Windy City’s immersive aesthetic is in its party phase. It’s like college but with infinitely better booze.
The company’s latest endeavor lets the partygoers inhabit a decadent apartment space designed by William Boles and dressed by Mealah Heidenreich. With decor like this, party host Michael would be hard-pressed to get me to leave. I’d also throw my frenemy a birthday party for the opportunity to show off my crystal and wallpaper game.
Mart Crowley’s 1968 play, a glimpse into the personal lives of six gay men via a birthday party, was largely sensational when it premiered and equally welcome in its recent fiftieth-anniversary remount on Broadway. It contextualizes how oppression festers in the human heart, whether that oppression emerges as self-harm, in depreciation or drink, in our relationships with one another or the ways in which we interact with the world. In the case of “Boys,” each of the men deals with society in their own way. And, just as we sometimes do offstage, it’s the ones we love most that we can hurt the worst.
Carrying the brunt of that emotional labor are Denzel Tsopnang and William Marquez as Bernard and Emory. These two try their best to keep the party and themselves together when the situation takes a turn for the worst. Meanwhile, Jackson Evans makes for an enraging yet sympathetic Michael, a difficult effort which requires nuance as Evans navigates the troubled waters of Michael’s personality.
Where this production loses steam is in its staging. The immersive approach worked for “Southern Gothic,” but not as well here. Despite the note on the handout and pre-show announcement, no one felt comfortable moving around the space on opening night. The red benches and even the sunken living room space are flanked with attendees. Walking in front of them feels wrong. At the same time, some of the movement feels forced as actors cross the gigantic room to interact with one another. Though slight, these extra moments deteriorate the energy of this tense show. (Amanda Finn)
Windy City Playhouse, 3014 West Irving Park, (773)891-8985, windycityplayhouse.com, $75-$95. Through April 19.