(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 10/13.)
No glamorous ghosts haunt Gary Griffin's human-scaled, Chicago-style production of "Follies." And, unlike the current Broadway revival of this most unstinting, despairing and gorgeously scored of musicals, there is no beautiful spectacle on Kevin Depinet's set, no sepia-toned celebration of the nostalgic pleasures of bygone entertainments, no dustcloths or shrouds — nothing, really, that can help any viewer over 40 forget about the road not taken, or the inevitability of slowly losing one's mind.
Here, there's just a reunion of showgirls — second-tier showgirls, mostly — and their stage-door Johnnies in an old theater — a fleapit that once held young souls who forgot the one thing that young souls always forget: the brevity of the moment when all life's turnstiles remain open. And since even a reunion of accountants is complex, the party first concocted by James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim in 1971 has several sides. Most "Follies" are framed by a proscenium. Chicago Shakespeare Theater has a proscenium arch at the rear — here filled with an elevated, 12-piece, all-acoustic orchestra. We easily assume that the character of the foxy old producer Dimitri Weismann (played by the foxy old Mike Nussbaum) has assembled it on the stage for this one last shebang, never intending his guests to fill it with their own neuroses. Ah, but they do. Still, the core of Griffin's real party — the conversations, the impromptu performances, the meltdowns — is located in the gut of the theater, on the thrust stage, where there is no easy remove for anyone.