The Human Comedy | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Human Comedy 

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THE HUMAN COMEDY, Splinter Group at Theatre Building. The same devotion and concentration that Splinter Group lavished on Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock in 1994 fuel this resounding revival of a problematic 1984 work by Hair composer Galt MacDermot.

A cantata based on William Saroyan's 1943 saga of an embattled California family during World War II, MacDermot's full-length, through-sung setting honors Saroyan's fervent hymn to the overlooked glories of everyday life and love. The fatherless Macauley clan--brave mother Kate; impressionable son Homer, who is, crucially, a telegraph messenger; kindly sister Bess; and impish little Ulysses--are unsung citizens of Ithaca, a big-hearted small town that sees its sons consumed by war but somehow stays sane.

Though Saroyan's unashamed sentiment and optimism are trivialized by William Dumaresq's simplistic, pseudouniversal lyrics, MacDermot's outpouring--winsome ballads or communal anthems reminiscent of Hair--would melt a stone. The drawback to this embarrassment of riches is how often these constant songs lack setups or payoffs. By themselves they're not strong enough to hold the story together, let alone tell it.

But there's enough conviction in the music, here powerfully directed by Matt O'Brien and Chris McNamara, to plug the holes in the libretto. Moving chairs around to populate this busy town, the 18-member cast unleash a very righteous sound.

Terrific and truthful work comes from Lynn Roof as the wise mother, George Keating as rambunctious Homer, Brendan McNab as the soldier son, Patricia Kunz as the girl he left behind, and, notably, second-grader Daniel Soso, who almost steals the show as curious Ulysses. --Lawrence Bommer

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