Mrs. Mackenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mrs. Mackenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues 

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This dazzling Chicago premiere of an award-winning play raises fascinating questions about the use of African-American music by white people--and doesn't attempt to answer them, leaving that task to the audience. Perhaps playwrights Patty Lynch and Kent Stephens knew they already had a full plate with their dense, compact, thoughtful drama about a high school music teacher's love affair with one of her students, an affair whose medium is the archetypal music of the misunderstood. Jessi D. Hill's economical production does full justice to the work, creating an entire world for the lovers to battle without ever forfeiting our focus on them. Jenny McKnight is outstanding as Suzanne Mackenzie, utterly sympathetic in a difficult role without ever resorting to special pleading. She gets able support from Geoff Rice (as her young lover, Tyler) and from Jesse Weaver and Karen McKie (who play everyone else, from Tyler's down-to-earth stepmother to a Geraldo Rivera clone determined to expose the sinful subculture of the blues, "sung by leering old men with peculiar names"). Under Dan Slyman's music direction, McKnight and Rice give clear, honest musical performances, backed up by first-rate vocal and instrumental work from the onstage trio of Tim Gittings, Dan Moran, and Dan Waring. The music's excellence gives additional resonance to the question of who's entitled to sing the blues. Stage Left Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield, Chicago, 773-883-8830. Through April 6: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $15-$20; industry night Thursday, March 7.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Johnny Knight.

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