*** Recommended *** “Top Girls” is an unusual play written by British playwright Caryl Churchill. Since I’d seen the play before (a Dunes Summer Theatre production in 2010), I knew where it was going. A word of warning, what with the weird dream sequence in Act I, will be more or less incomprehensible – at least until Act III, when you’ll figure it out. “Top Gun” was written as a reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s election in England, so it has a definite feminist slant. Because it’s ‘non-linear’, Churchill skips through time, which explains why the rest of us end up clueless. 3 Spotlights
Act I begins with that dream I mentioned earlier, in which Marlene (Linda Gillum) hosts a dinner party for powerful women from history. Over the course of the evening, they tell their life stories while getting exceedingly drunk.
By the way, in most productions (you can check all the pix online), the dinner guests are lined up on one side of a long table – like the painting of the last supper – above and in front of the audience. Remy Bumppo, on the other hand, puts the stage in the center with the audience seated on risers on opposite sides of the stage. The dinner guests are seated at a round table, but they frequently get up and move to another seat while waitresses, Rebecca Hurd and Vahista Vafadan, serve them.
• Isabella Bird (Annabel Armour), who lived in Edinburgh at the turn of the last century, started traveling when she was 40, crisscrossing the known world for more than thirty years.
• Lady Nijo (Karissa Murrell Myers), the Emperor of Japan’s courtesan, became a Buddhist nun later in life.
• Pope Joan (Rebecca Spence), who disguised herself as a man, was elected pope in about 854, but was stoned to death after giving birth.
• Dull Gret (Aurora Real de Asua), wearing armor and an apron, is thought to have lead a crowd of peasant women on a charge through hell.
• Finally, a latecomer, Patient Griselda (Amber Sallis), Chaucer’s patient wife from The Clerk’s Tale, tells her horror story.
In Marlene’s real life, we learn that she has just accepted a promotion to Managing Director at Top Girls Placement Agency. The other women in the agency, Nell (Hurd) and Win (Myers), try to emulate her while interviewing job applicants.
Meanwhile, when young Angie (Asua) runs away from home, we find out about one of Marlene’s dirty little secrets. When she left her “poor” life for the city, she left an illegitimate daughter behind for her sister, Joyce (Spence) to raise.
This is a long play, at two hours, forty minutes, but be sure and stay in your seat for the second intermission. Watching the crew’s tightly choreographed steps to completely transform the stage into an apartment, with a complete kitchen, is not to be missed. Kudos to Set Designer Courtney O’Neill and Properties Designer Amanda Herrmann.
The Remy Bumppo production of “Top Girls” runs through February 22nd at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago. Parking for Theater Wit is available in a lot directly across the street for $8. Stop in Kubo Chicago (restaurant) to pay.
Running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes, with two intermissions. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2:30 pm. Additional matinee performances: Saturday, February 1st at 2:30 pm; Saturday, February 8th at 2:30 pm; Thursday, February 13th at 2:30 pm, Thursday, February 20th at 2:30 pm; and Saturday, February 22nd at 2:30 pm. Open Caption Performance: Saturday, February 1st at 2:30 pm. Tickets range from $37.75-$47.75. FYI (773) 975-8150 or www.remybumppo.org.
Read all of Carol Moore’s reviews at www.spotlightonlake.com