Wilson Wants It All
House Theatre of Chicago

Critic's Pick of the Week - "Wilson Wants it All," the fascinating, dystopian, all-new thriller from the House Theatre of Chicago, plays like "The Manchurian Candidate" at a Tea Party convention. All in all, this is a gutsy, risky piece that's also a fun night out" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 2/9/10

Jeff Recommended

Tix: $25/29

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02/04/10 - 03/27/10

8p Thu-Sat; 7p Sun. Tix $25/29

Chicago Public Radio Review - http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/Content.aspx?audioID=40444

Critic's Pick of the Week - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 2/9/10 - "Wilson Wants it All," the fascinating, dystopian, all-new thriller from the House Theatre of Chicago, plays like "The Manchurian Candidate" at a Tea Party convention.

It's 2040. America is, naturally, divided. But there are now seven political parties. Federalists. New Republicans. Greens. Libertarians. Progressives. Territorialists. The Coalition. Each obstructs the other, since political gain has trumped good policymaking, once and for all. That's hardly a stretch from current reality, but now there is also talk of the end of the union.

Enter a young woman named Hope, who might be the last chance to unify a nation. The child of a late, great, JFK-esque senator killed by an assassin's bullet, 30-year-old Hope has spent a sheltered youth but is on the verge of stepping up to the political plate. But does she want it? Or would she rather just run away from Wilson, her political handler, and also her destiny?

There really are two sides to this show -- co-written by Phillip C. Klapperich and Michael Rohd and staged with remarkable imagination by Rohd, artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore. The more obvious and predictable (but nonetheless involving) side involves a conspiracy-laced yarn about manipulated reputations, hidden children and political secrets. You're better off trying to guess the narrative twists as they unfold, but it all takes some swallowing.

Then again, just as you start questioning how believable some of these events could possibly be, you're (intentionally, I think) reminded of John Edwards' child with Rielle Hunter, a child for whom a campaign aide initially took parental responsibility. Had that 2000 Florida recount gone differently, something close to the events of "Wilson Wants it All" might actually have played out.

But what makes this show rather more than just a pulpy yarn is the way it homes in on a potent political paradox. Inspirational political figures -- and I suspect the authors have the current president in mind here -- invariably lose a good portion of their supporters when they take a stand on an actual issue. And thus paralysis can result. "I think we need someone so beloved," someone remarks deep in this play, "that they can take the risk to speak for themselves." Indeed.

Shows like this -- large casts, heavy use of video and computers, futuristic settings -- have high failure rates. But to his credit, Rohd (and the smart videographer Lucas Merino) keeps things credible, fresh, involving and successful. Mostly.

The one big flaw in the show is the over-the-top chorus of media people who camp things up when the rest of the show is rightly truthful and emotional in style. That should be fixed. But the digressions toward the cheap laugh don't torpedo the show, which had its opening-night audience in its thrall, Super Bowl or no Super Bowl.

There is a lot of very clever technological prediction -- it's fascinating how much the sweeping, iPhone-inspired hand movements have permeated aesthetic treatments of the future, here depicted as a world full of iPad-like tablet devices. And there's a fabulous, terrifying segment involving an interactive billboard responding to the desires and heart rate of a potential customer.

All in all, this is a gutsy, risky piece that's also a fun night out. And for those who think House is trapped in the thrall of whimsy, it demonstrates a newly political bent that adds depth to this intensely creative company's work. There are a number of rich performances from the likes of Carolyn Defrin, Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Kevin Barry Crowley, Rebekah Ward-Hays, John Henry Roberts and, especially, the delightfully sardonic Leslie Frame, who plays the Hope doppelganger who may just offer more hope for America than the original model. You'll have to see this show to understand.


Michael Shea, TimeOut Chicago 2/10/10 - "It’s the year 2040, and things haven’t changed much since 2010. Political discourse, for example, still revolves around a single nebulous term: hope. This time around, however, Hope is a political heiress, born just after her senator father’s tragic death. Now, 30 years later, a politically shattered nation turns to an unwilling Hope for salvation. Luckily, she randomly encounters a citizen look-alike who agrees to temporarily switch lives, saving the heiress from her own.

Wilson’s primary allegory is obvious and somewhat trivial (citizens venerate the idea of “Hope” too thoroughly to notice when she disappears). Still, the new work by House regular Klapperich and Rohd, the founder of Portland, Oregon’s Sojourn Theatre and a visiting prof at Northwestern, doesn’t lack for interesting thematic fare. Much of the piece focuses on what drives Wilson, Hope’s adoptive father and closest political advisor, a backstage Machiavelli who indeed “wants it all”—except for a public career of his own. The playwrights provide intriguing insights into why someone might lust to buoy power, rather than command it.

The House’s production features the flash and technical proficiency we’ve come to expect from the company. Brisk, twirl-heavy choreography propels the ensemble, while a background of (often live) video projections aptly conveys a digitized future. But stirring visuals can’t compensate for an increasingly cumbersome script; late-in-the-game developments include a far-fetched showdown between the two ostensible Hopes".

"I have had the very great pleasure to see a number of Michael Rohd's plays. From "9 Acts of Determination", "Throwing Bones", and the phenomenal site-specific "Good" in Portland, Oregon, to the high tech interactive "Race", whose content changed nightly as the election approached, and most recent "Full Circle" in Washington D.C., Mr. Rohd has delivered thought-provoking entertainment. I enjoy his insight into the human condition that in the midst of serious situations there can still be humor, even absurdity. Today's theatre audiences seem to enjoy this juxtaposition, as I noticed in "Wilson Wants It All". This is the first effort of Mr. Rohd's that I have seen in Chicago and I hope it is not the last collaboration with the spectacular House Company at the wonderful Chopin Theater" - Michael Davis, commenter ChicagoTribune.com

Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich

Michael Rohd

Kevin Barry Crowley, Rebekah Ward-Hays, Carolyn Defrin, Edgard Miguel Sanchez, Leslie Frame, John Henry Roberts, Joey Steakley, Elana Elyce, Maria McCullough, Emjoy Gavino, Abu Ansari, Michael E. Smith

Composer - Kevin O'Donnell; Choreographer - TommyRapley; Scenic Designer - Collette Pollard; Costume Design - Ana Kuzmanic; Light Design - Sarah Hughey; Video Design - Lucas Merino; Sound Design - Michael Griggs; Stage Manager - Brian Desgranges; Photography - John Taflan

Tags: Theater, American, 2010