TWO DAYS IN COURT
directed by Terry McCabe
music directed by Daniel Robinson
City Lit Theatre
through May 26, 2019
Reviewed by Ruth Smerling
THE CITY LIT THEATRE IS THUNDERING WITH MUSIC, MORALITY AND MARRIAGE VOWS AND IT’S A DEVIL OF A GOOD TIME!
City Lit Theatre finishes the 2018-2019 season with a spectacular finale and incredible milestone for the company. Who would have ever dreamed that the Devil would come to the City Lit? Well, not only does the Devil make a showing in Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, but he’s accompanied by a brilliant production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s wild and crazy spoof on the British legal system Trial By Jury, the raucous one-act play that started the patter partnership and built the Savoy Theatre. Artistic Director Terry McCabe splendidly helms both shows.
Act One, The Devil and Daniel Webster, opens with a joyous wedding. Nate Strain is the groom, Jabez Stone. He and his bride, Mary (Laura Resinger) are on their way to a brilliant future. Jabez is a statesman, with a productive farm and great wealth. Everyone is having fun and enjoying the festivities until a mysterious stranger enters their cloistered New Hampshire town – Mr. Scratch (Lee Wichman). It soon becomes clear that this stranger is no ordinary man. Suddenly Mr. Stone has some explaining to do. He confides to Mary that one day, futilely working on his farm – a barren rock-covered expanse impossible to support crops - had gotten to him. He said “I would sell my soul to the devil” for a better way of life. Lo and behold, the Devil was willing to accommodate him. He’s indentured now and has no way out.
But this is America. There is the law that serves and protects us. The Devil himself will be no match for attorney superstar Daniel Webster (Bill Chamberlain), even with all his evil powers. It’s a tough fight, but Webster doesn’t back down. Bill Chamberlain, with magnificent voice and dazzling smile, is bigger than life as the power of good that governs. Lee Wichman is charismatic and glib enough to wield power over a clueless innocent and puts up a good fight against the God-fearing society that tries to keep him far away.
After a brief intermission the house is filled again for Gilbert and Sullivan’s first collaboration Trial By Jury. Revered City Lit veteran Kingsley Day stars as the Learned Judge (and a very good judge indeed). The charming Jimmy Hogan makes his City Lit debut as the Defendant, a scoundrel who has deeply disappointed his bride-to-be (Sarah Beth Tanner). He is on trial in the wacky court of the Learned Judge who reveals that he is no role model either. Kingsley Day, who has performed as a patter baritone in all fourteen of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light operas is in full barrister costume, complete with a head covered in a flapping sheared sheep wig is perfectly irreverent as the opportunist who bends the rules to suit his needs.
The design team keeps the flow of the stories vibrant and exuberant. Evan Frank’s set is minimal and leaves plenty of space for the actors to move about and sing and dance, and still creates an impeccable sense of place. Costume design by Tom Keiffer is meticulously crafted to recreate a time in history and make uniform the characters of various strengths, powers and privilege. Liz Cooper’s light design is spectacular, especially in The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Two Days in Court is one of the most entertaining and ingenious shows on stage in Chicago. Every savvy theatregoer in Chicago should try to procure a ticket as soon as possible. As of this date, there are still seats available through the run, ending May 26.
To purchase tickets and learn more about the City Lit and the exciting upcoming season visit www.citylit.org. The theatre is located on the second floor of the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1039 W. Bryn Mawr, one block west of Sheridan Road and is easy to get to by public transportation, Just a block from the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop, one block from #84 Peterson, #151 Sheridan, #147 Express and three blocks from #36 Broadway buses. Drive, take a bus, Uber/Lyft, and don’t miss this historic moment in Chicago Theatre.