Traitor review: Powerful world premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre

Traitor review: Powerful world premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre
Van Swearingen. Ellis-Fitzgerald Henrikson Dado.-Photo: Michael Brosilow

They called him a traitor for telling the truth

Politics as usual set the foundation for Traitor, a powerful examination of the human condition, deception and desperation. Brett Neveu has taken Henrik Isben's An Enemy of the People, written in 1882, and transformed it into a story that works seamlessly in today's troubled times.

Whether to tell the truth and save the health of the children of the town or cover-up a toxic mess to save the economy of the finally recovering East Lake--a fictional suburb north of Chicago--is at the root of the story.

Neveu's modern adaptation finds renewed immediacy in our current political climate, fake news and all.

Amazingly and regrettably, not much has changed in the the past 136 years since Ibsen first penned the play. The names and locations may have changed but the challenges remain just as relevant today.

Brother and sister Guy Van Swearingen and Kirsten Fitzgerald on opposing sides. Photo Michael Brosilow

Brother and sister Guy Van Swearingen and Kirsten Fitzgerald on opposing sides. Photo Michael Brosilow

The play moves along with Neveu's realistic dialogue, peppered with profanity typical of today's conversations and his unexpected humor. It explores the issues without hitting you over the head.

Conflicting opinions arise, sides are taken, tempers flare and the debate escalates. At the center of the debate is passionate teacher whistleblower Dr. Tom Stock (Guy Van Swearingen) who has tested the soil around the local charter school and found it it be contaminated with lead. 

Initially Stock finds support from the town's newspaper editor Walter Hove (Larry Grimm)--an easily swayed man who doesn't see the whole picture--only caring about getting his newspaper to a better place. Hove's young, much smarter associate, Madison Bills, performed spot on by Kristin Ellis gets it.

Photo: M. Brosilow

Photo: M. Brosilow

Patty Stock (Kirsten Fitzgerald), the mayor of the small town and Tom's younger sister will do whatever it takes to keep the town's economy rolling with no regard for the truth. Tom’s wife, Karla (Dado) is basically a good person who keeps the home fires burning while working from home as an editor, hosting 'Taco Tuesdays' and being mom to their children Molly (Missi Davis) and Randal (Nation Henrikson). Molly’s polluter father (Frank Nall) only cares about continuing to profit from the pollution his factory is causing.

The two-hour-and-30 minutes play is compelling throughout. Michael Shannon, a founding member of this Chicago company directs with honesty and vision. Scenic designer, John Musial manages to include a broad variety of settings within the confined space even utilizing a corner of the theatre to serve as a coffee shop bringing the immediacy of the action right to the audience in the 70-seat space.

Guy Van-Swearingen speaking at the City Council meeting. Photo: Michael Brosilow

Guy Van-Swearingen speaking at the City Council meeting. Photo: Michael Brosilow

A change of venue following intermission brings the audience to a storefront two doors down from the theatre on Wells Street where they became part of the townsfolk at a heated city council meeting that quickly spins out of control. Stock puts on a passionate, over-the-top performance before being dismissed from the proceedings with the crowd, blinded by rage, in an uproar before the action returns to the Red Orchid venue.

With Tom's life in the town falling apart, his family sticks by him, his ideals and passion for what's right which is poignantly illustrated at the end of the play.

I think Ibsen would approve of this adaptation.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

What: Traitor
Where: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave.
When: Now throug February 25, 2018
Tickets: 312 943 8722 or online at A Red Orchid

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Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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