The Adventures of Augie March

The Travelling Man

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"I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent."

The above quote is one of literature's most famous opening lines. This quote can be found in "The Adventures of Augie March" by playwright Saul Bellow; who is regarded as one of the twentieth century's greatest authors by British author and critic Martin Amis. Bellow's, an American writer, told the story of a Jewish-American hero's picaresque tale of self-discovery in intensified language and street-smart jargon before the great depression.

"The Adventures of Augie March" is told through many subplots and the groundbreaking nearly 600 page Chicago epic was published in 1953 by Viking Press. It shook up literature, and it is considered one of the 100th best novels ever written, ranking no# 73.

This is Bellow's third novel following behind 'Dangling Man' and 'The Victim,' but it's considered his masterpiece and the novel that launched his reputation as a novelist and established the future Nobel Laureate's literary renown.

Court Theater commissioned Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, student, and teacher at the University of Chicago David Auburn to adapt 'The Adventures of Augie March' into a play to close out the season. However, the book that is nearly 600 pages with the interesting characters has to be severely condensed before it can come to the stage.

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Auburn had to select the characters that served the point of each episode with the most narrative or dramatic force to tell the story by cutting substantial sections of the novel and combining hundreds of pages to create scenes.

He added his dialogue to portions of Bellow's tangled writing style and turned a first-person novel set in Chicago and Mexico into a play with 13 actors portraying 40 roles.

The storyline focuses on the chaotic youth and young man of Augie March taking on the complexities of life. It is through his adventures that he chronicles a series of intense, somber, and funny events. Patrick Mulvey who does an outstanding performance of playing Augie's life is told through flashbacks, beginning in World War II when he serves in the merchant marine, surviving a German submarine attack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Augie suffers in a problematic episode in a lifeboat with a biophysicist who turns out to be a lunatic.

We then see the life of Augie as a nine-year-old boy living in Chicago with his dysfunctional and poor Jewish-Russian family, Luigi Sottile as his ambitious handsome brother Simon and Travis Turner as the mentally abnormal brother George. They have no father and are brought up by their mother Rebecca March, who is overworked and is losing her eyesight. The family lives in the rough part of Chicago near the Northwest side of the city, and then lastly there's Marilyn Dodds Frank as the tyrannical grandmother-like figure who is their renter, who subsequently advises and controls the family.

Augie March adventures of self-discovery came with a lot of unusual circumstances that bridge continents and stages of his life with engaging characters. From John Judd as William Einhorn, a landlord, small-time businessman, and on occasions a charlatan who runs a pool hall and many other operations, who is confined to a wheelchair. He hires Augie as an errand-boy and becomes a mentor and his role model. He likes Augie and solicits him to help out BrittneyLove Smith as Dingbat (who nearly steals the show with her perfect comedic timing) his half brother, who is a flashy dresser who admires gangsters and fancies himself a boxing promoter for hopeless boxers; mainly for Clem played by Stef Tovar, who was also hilarious.

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Augie connects back with his friend Kai Ealy as Mannie Padilla a genius in mathematical physics who involves him in a book-theft scheme where they rob the school library where he is a student at Crane College. Then there's Aurora Real De Asua as MiMi the emotional friend in dire straits that Augie helps out to get an abortion. This was a substantial scene in the play.

Let's not forget Augie's sexual adventures with his many lovers, introduced to him by his brother Simon. Including, the wealthy sisters the elegant Abby Pierce as Stella and Chaon Cross as Thea the wild and uncontrollable aristocratic lover, who also plays a great dual role as his mother.

However, one of the narrative's weirdest and most redolent images is when Augie and Thea's unusual exploit takes place in Mexico when Thea and Augie train to hunt iguanas. In the production, the nervous eagle will be rendered in puppet forms. Metaphorically, speaking "The eagle activates the philosophical debates Augie is having with himself," Auburn explained.

Director Charles Newell brought David Auburn adaptation of all of the complexities of 'The Adventures of Augie March' epic coming of age story to the stage with the help of designer collaborator John Culbert. Taking a series of set pieces, Auburn selected from the novel; the theatrical production covered 25 years starting from Chicago and traveling from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, New York City, and Mexico. Kudos to Newell and Culbert as they pulled the multifaceted project together building interest to the adventures that took place in Augie's life, all in 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Although the first act starts slow, the action builds in the second and third act, and though the design set is understated with simple scenery and lighting it works in creative ways, and through the diverse and talented cast which is bare-footed playing a multitude of roles the play is still engaging. Thanks to Manuel Cinema Studios for its impressive puppet designs.

Let's Play Recommends if you have three hours to spare check out 'The Adventures of Aigoie March' at Court Theatre.

Court Theatre Concludes its 64th Season with
The World Premiere of
The Adventures of Augie March
A play by David Auburn
Based on the novel by Saul Bellow
Directed by Charles Newell
Marilyn F. Vitale, Artistic Director
May 9 – June 9, 2019

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