Blake | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Blake 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Blake,Writers' Theatre–Chicago. It's remarkable how easily a subversive artist like William Blake can be repackaged these days into a tasteful bourgeois commodity. (Monet exhibit, anyone?) Blake is exactly what you'd expect from a company that calls itself Writers' Theater–Chicago and performs in an upscale Glencoe bookstore: an actor portraying Blake, in smoking robe and unkempt coif, tells us in between orotund recitations of verse about the writer's life, loves, visions, and philosophy. There's even a porcelain-skinned angel who drapes herself across the furniture like a Maxfield Parrish wood nymph--when she's not caroling her way through Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.

Director Michael Halberstam's production is pleasant enough. As Blake, Gary Houston turns in a warm and welcoming if somewhat sleepy performance--until the second act, when he growls through Blake's late prophetic writings as though the poet's only inspiration were a tormenting inner demon, not the lifelong study of Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, gnosticism, alchemy, Boehme, and Swedenborg, to name a few influences. Like so many playwrights exhuming revered literary figures, Elliott Hayes forgets to ask why Blake needs to tell his story to a group of strangers, leaving Houston to come up with emotional stakes for a play that's essentially encyclopedic. Blake's fire burned so ferociously that any of his one-sentence Parables of Hell could better reward an hour and a half of contemplation.

--Justin Hayford

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Justin Hayford

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
King Hedley II Court Theatre
September 12
Performing Arts
70 Scenes of Halloween Athenaeum Theatre
September 26

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories