The Eccentricities of a Nigtingale | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Eccentricities of a Nigtingale 

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THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, Eclipse Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. A few months ago the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis--one of the midwest's most prestigious venues--dumped a lot of money into a slick, flashy, relentlessly uninteresting production of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke. Now Chicago's scrappy Eclipse Theatre, holed up in the Chopin's amenity-free basement, has spent about seven dollars on a clunky, uneven, thoroughly engaging rendition of The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Williams's inspired revision of Summer and Smoke. Sure, it's a much better play, but Eclipse also proves it's got heaps more brains and talent than the Guthrie.

Director Steve Scott wisely opts for an understated, semichamber performance of this easily overblown saga about sexual repression. In a town hostile to the slightest idiosyncrasy or unseemly emotional display, the excitable aspiring singer Alma and the mother-smothered young doctor John attempt to forge a romance. It ends badly--this is Williams, after all--but the vagaries of tortured love are exquisite, even as the playwright drops moral lessons like boulders and turns Alma into a ten-ton metaphorical nightingale.

Scott has moments of heavy-handedness as well: Alma's circle of "eccentrics"--the town's free spirits--have all the credibility of the therapy patients on the old Bob Newhart Show. But Jenny McKnight and Steven Richard as the star-crossed lovers turn in such skilled, nuanced performances that it would take a special effort not to become completely engrossed.

--Justin Hayford

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