The Water Engine | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Water Engine 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Progress has seldom been presented as ironically as it is in David Mamet's early, arch one-act. Here the Depression-fed hopes and dreams of Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition contrast with the sordid cautionary tale of Charles Lang, a maverick inventor whose water engine proves too great a threat to the titans of industry--who decide just what form progress will take. To this tight hour-long murder mystery Mamet adds two alienating elements: he gives his piece the format of a radio play, scripting everything down to the last sound effect, and the concept of a chain letter, touted in "commercials." Woe betide anyone who breaks the chain--which is in effect what Lang does by imagining a technology that exploits nothing. And for that he pays a terrible price. Rich in 1934 detail (vintage radios, an authentic sound-effects booth, the clipped cadences of newsreel reporters), Jessica Thebus's staging for Steppenwolf's youth-oriented Arts Exchange program works equally well as moral melodrama and historical reconstruction. David Engel gives the hapless inventor a suitable paranoia; his fear chills us throughout. Equally tough work comes from Elizabeth Birnkrant as Lang's endangered girlfriend, Peter DeFaria as a grocer-philosopher, Patrick Dollymore as a veteran newshound, and Danny McCarthy as a thuggish defender of progress. Foley artist Matthew Callahan times his multiple sound effects to perfection. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650. Through March 10: Saturdays, 11 AM. $10.

--Lawrence Bommer

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


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Lawrence Bommer

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Oslo Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
September 10
Performing Arts
The Great Leap Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Upstairs Theatre
September 05

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories