Review: “Music Hall” (TUTA Theatre Chicago)

Show: “Music Hall”

Michael Doonan (First Boy), Jeffrey Binder (The Artiste), and Darren Hill (Second Boy)
Michael Doonan (First Boy), Jeffrey Binder (The Artiste), and Darren Hill (Second Boy)

Company: TUTA Theatre Chicago

Venue: The Den Theater

Die Roll: 09

It was such a pleasure to attend Sunday’s performance of “Music Hall” in the back studio at the Den. For 80 minutes I lost myself  in a simply gorgeous piece of theatre about theatre.

“But what is it about?”  Nothing. Everything. It’s a living, breathing memory in real-time.  Two actors enter a rehearsal space and begin to relive their years with The Artiste, a celebrated performer of great renown. A third man joins them and gradually transforms into The Artiste.  Together and apart, the three men embody the experience of enduring the theatre life year in and year out, all the while acknowledging that their salad days have passed.

For all that, it’s not a melancholy, sentimental or nostalgic play. Each of the three excellent actors keeps us solidly in the present, holding us close as they move time around us. Michael Doonan and Darren Hill open the show as First Boy and Second Boy, respectively, and set the tone with a mixture of charm and humor. Enter Jeffrey Binder as the third actor who morphs into The Artiste before our eyes. I have rarely seen an actor possessed of such simple subtlety and complexity. Every moment has exactly as much meaning as it needs to have.  All three actors reach far beyond the footlights to engage with the audience regularly, and in doing so, draw us into the experience with them.

It’s such a simple set: a studio with mirrors on two sides; a curtain running diagonally across the playing area; a trunk; a ladder; and The Stool, which I capitalize with very good reason.  The actors have simple, yet evocative costumes that evoke no specific period, but definitely belong to show business.  The lighting is deceptive – at times, the actors are lit only by a row of footlights; other times the house lights come up.  The changes are so subtle that it takes a moment to realize that we’ve moved from backstage to before the curtain because the Artiste is featured in a tight spotlight.  This is a show that trusts in simplicity, and it pays off in gold. Clearly director Zeljko Djukic is a master of interpretation and combination: he gathered exactly the right elements (human and otherwise) and uses them expertly.

I cannot recommend this show enough. It’s unlike anything else playing in Chicago – so distinctly European (the playwright was French): a combination of language, movement, dance, song and music that forms a memory-moment told from multiple perspectives. It’s funny, charming, sad, and thought-provoking all at once. Spend the time and experience a truly remarkable show.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Subtle, moving meditation on the vulnerability of the performing life.

Dice Rating: d2o= “One Of The Best!”