Seduced | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Immediate Theatre Company

Sam Shepard must have been listening to Randy Newman's Sail Away when he wrote Seduced. Some of the album's songs are ordered in the stage directions; and the ones he didn't use resonate in the play's world. Like these lines from "The Dream I Had Last Night":

I saw a vampire

I saw a ghost

Everybody scared me but you scared me the most

In the dream I had last night . . .

which describe my experience with Seduced more succinctly than I could hope to. It works like a dream on an area of the mind beyond the literal; and encompassing all its horrors is the character of Henry Hackamore, a thinly veiled Howard Hughes. My God was he terrifying!

On one level, Seduced is a fantasy based on the last day in Hughes's life. It is set in a penthouse suite of an Acapulco hotel, where HH lives in a state of paranoiac, germ-free seclusion that would turn Michael Jackson green with envy. His servant Raul, who takes care of his every whim, is his only human contact and has been for years. On this day, however, women from HH's past are arriving, to deliver him, to see him across, he says. And this alien life intruding dredges up fears and desires long forgotten.

But to explain Shepard through a plot is a waste of time. Shepard is a dealer in myths and dreams. Henry Malcolm Hackamore is the embodiment of the American Dream. He had everything--women, wealth, power, fame, you name it. He had it to excess. But somewhere along the way, the dream started to devour him. Like the Africans coaxed aboard the slave galley with promises of the good life in America in "Sail Away," the opening song of the play, Hackamore was seduced by the promise.

"I was taken by the dream," Hackamore realizes too late, "and all the time I thought I was taking it."

Yet Hackamore, always the entrepreneur, can turn even his downfall into a victory. "I'm the demon they invented!" he explains as he flies off into myth. "Everything they ever aspired to. The nightmare of the nation! It's me."

In accepting himself as the American Nightmare, he finds eternal life. For he will always exist in America's hotels, oil wells, jet planes, the glowing, burning hellholes of its Las Vegases.

Director Jeff Ginsberg and the Immediate Theatre Company capture the beauty and terror of the world of Seduced. They take Shepard's images one step farther to create their own vivid pictures. Russ Borski's set is the best example. The broken-down pieces of airplane embedded in the floor (an interesting metaphor for Hackamore himself) become one with the actor. While others wander freely throughout the playing space, Hackamore rarely strays from the surface of the airplane parts.

But it is Richard Wharton's stunning performance as Hackamore that truly pulls this production together. He is, as Shepard imagined him, half magical, half maniac, a cross between a mystic and a captive. Wharton speaks poetry and absurdity with equal conviction, comfortable as a cowboy guru who doesn't know the difference. Wharton plays all of the many faces of Henry Hackamore expertly.

Joan Schwenk and Lynda Foxman are the dollies from Hackamore's past. Slinking through Henry's fantasy, Schwenk seems to have come straight out of the kind of decadent party invented by 1940s movies. She even does a great Katharine Hepburn imitation. Foxman, dressed as a Vegas version of Cleopatra, convincingly plays the low-class broad to Schwenk's high-class fancy woman.

John Montana has an interestingly sterile, passionless quality as Raul, Hackamore's servant. It works well during most of the play, where he's Hackamore's foil, but it is a detriment when Raul turns against his boss. We never see Raul's seething undercurrent, so we only sense danger through Hackamore's inferences.

The Immediate's Seduced is a beguiling visit to the monster at the end of the American Rainbow. Like a beautiful nightmare, it conjures feelings difficult to shake off.

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