Dog and Pony Theatre Company actually puts the audience into the action with their passionate, incisive musical about Chicago’s violent 1968 Democratic convention, The Whole World is Watching. Using the intimate technique of promenade theater, the audience stands among the performers, shifting their bodies and focus along with them as the story, embroiled by frustrations of over the recent assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the conflict in Viet Nam, unfolds throughout different areas of the open space.
Here, it is brilliantly easy to understand the fear and frustration of the young protesting students. The actors playing policemen herd cast and audience members to different areas of the room, resulting in a sense of confused claustrophobia, at times. But, this notorious incident in Chicago’s history, wherein the police force savagely attacked a group of protestors, is given a sense of emotional equality in this heartfelt presentation. Playwrights-lyricists Devon de Mayo and Stephen Ptacek knowledgeably illustrate that the public servants, whose actions resulted in the title chant, were systematic cogs, doing their jobs and worried for their own safety.
Employing a sure sense of space and purpose, co-directors de Mayo, David Dietrich Gray and Elana Boulos evince true and complex performances out of the exceptional cast. Along with the assistance of musical director-arranger Dan Mohr, the entire ensemble pulses with the wounded fragility of the era. In particular, John Blick, as a tortured police officer, Jenny Lamb, as a compassionate parent, and Jordan Phelps, in a gorgeous solo number, deliver with heart filled connection. Paige Collins, as the sweet rebel who narrates the penultimate events of the weekend, also perfectly develops a character of accessible nuance.
In fact, the show’s one minor flaw lies in the late introduction of Collins as primary voice in the action. An increased sense of emotional connectedness would have resulted with an earlier entry point into her character’s world.
Here, though, the eclectic, extremely talented Collins takes us into the process of this very unique production with an exclusive Sheridan Road interview.
Sheridan Road: The Whole World is Watching is a very original production. What was the rehearsal process like?
Paige: The rehearsal process was separated into 2 parts! A five week workshop in which we (the cast and the writers) played with text and bits of music. Then we had a little time off and came back to a full script and a full book of music. It was a magical process that involved a lot of collaboration and patience and discoveries – fully satisfying and great group of artists to be in the room with!
SR: Why do you think the story of the 68 Democratic convention is still pertinent today?
Paige: The 60’s may have been one of the last time periods in which people in our country were not afraid to speak up and say how messed up they thought things were. Only now, with the economic and political climate being the way it is are we seeing something similar, but probably nowhere near as radical. In short, I think this event will always be pertinent, because it evokes an extreme sense of unity among people who are, on the surface, so different. Also, there’s a feeling that, amongst all the noise, your voice may be heard. At least, that is one of the ways I connect to the play.
The Whole World is Watching runs through June 9th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, in Chicago. Tickets are $15-$25 and can be purchased by calling 773-871-3000 or by visiting www.dogandponychicago.org. —Brian Kirst