A Hatful of Rain, Stage Actor's Ensemble of Chicago, at Dancetech. Michael V. Gazzo's 1955 tale of a shell-shocked Korean war vet's descent into heroin addiction as he struggles to reintegrate with his troubled family is antiquated in any case, but director Stephan Turner's decision to update A Hatful of Rain to the present day only makes the machinery creak more loudly. The innocent ex-GI traumatized by his wartime experience, the reflexively loyal wife, the son trying to win his father's love by keeping the family skeletons in the closet may still exist in 1994, but in the theater they come off as the products of a play-writing style worn threadbare by the repetition of lesser craftsmen.
Modern audiences sophisticated in the ways of dysfunctional families, delayed stress syndrome, and chemical dependency may well find this family unbelievably naive about its problems. Tightly focused, psychologically based performances would have helped this mossy melodrama, but the largely inexperienced Stage Actor's Ensemble cast recite their wooden speeches with an oddly preoccupied air--especially Turner himself. He's spread rather thin in his multiple capacities as director, set and lighting designer, and performer in a major role. Though the actors' phrasing and inflections indicate adequate training, the only ones who seem to be enjoying themselves are Chris Scheithe and Larry Brewer as a pair of cartoonish smack salesmen: they scamper through their stereotypical shenanigans with gleeful outrageousness.
The revival of an American classic is always to be commended, as is the attempt to render it palatable to contemporary sensibilities, but as talented as some of the Stage Actor's Ensemble may be, apparently they don't have the time or the skill to make A Hatful of Rain into anything more than an academic exercise for the participants.