On October 8, 1871, my great grandma stood in Lake Michigan to escape the legendary Chicago fire. She watched the winds and flames incinerate her hometown . She was just a little girl and her world was disappearing into ashes. How scary that day must have been. Unimaginable! But, she was a survivor. Fast forward 140 years. On October 8, 2011, her great granddaughter sat in one of the few buildings to survive the fire and commemorate the anniversary.
Lookingglass Theatre presents THE GREAT FIRE within the un-burnable Water Tower Water Works. Writer and director John Musial revisits his 1999 production of the historic fire. High winds, wooden buildings and catastrophic disbelief attributed to the two day raging inferno. Eventually, rain would end the wildfire. The destruction would leave at least 300 dead, 100,000 homeless and $200 million worth of property destroyed. Musial’s reenactment uses facts like kindling to ignite fiery pageantry. THE GREAT FIRE is an out-of-control barn burner!
Musial orchestrates the show as one stylized movement. The talented 7-member ensemble weaves together real personal accounts of the tragic event. Legendary Chicagoans like the O’Leary family and Judge Lambert Tree share their perspectives. They are joined by other real people... a big-talking alderman, a desperate immigrant mother, the strict orphanage headmistress. This cast is on fire! They smoothly drop accents, shift gender and build chaos. The set designed by John Dalton is completely trashed! At first, it has a gentle look with lit up wooden houses dangling from the ceiling. They are festive, homey lanterns. But as the calamity blazes, the tranquility chars. The volatile production establishes the mayhem saga. There is a real threat of danger as walls spontaneously crash to the ground. Then there is the fire itself. Red lighting, billowing smoke and a-whole-lot-of-little-red-papers build the disaster intrigue. Becoming the incarnation of the fire, a red-headed Lindsey Noel Whiting dances, climbs and attacks people. There are pure moments of comedy when she is beating on a person and they smack her back to *put her out*. But the visual stunner is when she waltzes them into death. A petite Whiting overpowers the person in gripping command. It’s beautifully sad.
Musial paces THE GREAT FIRE tight and fast-moving. His multiple characters are a frenzy of activity. It’s very Robert Altman-esque. For me, this makes it phenomenal. For others, it may make it confusing. During high levels of turmoil, Gary Wingert (Fire Marshall Williams) periodically makes his appearance. An amusing Wingert slows it down with his calming explanations. He’s hilarious blaming the ‘ditch diggers and cabbage eaters‘ aka Irish for their shanty ignition.
There is so much to love about this dramatic comedy! THE GREAT FIRE educates and entertains. I leave the theatre with a deeper respect for Chicago and my great grandmother. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for their perseverance.
Also a fiery red-head, Jen describes the show with 'sizzling set design.'
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
At Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
Written by John Musial
Directed by John Musial
Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 7:30pm
Thru November 20th