The Cradle Will Rock | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Cradle Will Rock 

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This ambitious, Altman-esque tapestry by writer-director Tim Robbins re-creates various events involving art, patronage, and politics during the mid-1930s, all revolving around the Federal Theater's legendary New York production of Marc Blitzstein's socialist opera The Cradle Will Rock and its suppression by the U.S. Congress. One could make countless legitimate complaints about the film's details, ranging from its unsympathetic (and unconvincing) treatments of Blitzstein, producer John Houseman, and 22-year-old stage director Orson Welles to its crackpot theory that Nelson Rockefeller decided to foist abstract art on the American public for political reasons. But there's something stirring and gutsy about this evocation of collective ferment--not to mention timely, in the wake of the Seattle uprising against the World Trade Organization--and some of Robbins's reflections on federal arts funding (including debates at the 1936 hearings of the Dies Committee that come straight from the congressional record) are especially pungent. Linking such figures as Rockefeller, Diego Rivera, William Randolph Hearst, and Federal Theater director Hallie Flanagan, Robbins trashes star politics in every form, denigrating artists in favor of artworks, but glories in populist expression wherever he finds it, including in Blitzstein's dated opera. The large and impressive cast includes John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Emily Watson, John Turturro, Cherry Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, Philip Baker Hall, Bill Murray, Cary Elwes, and Angus MacFadyen. Oakbrook, Pipers Alley.

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

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