It takes a brave soul to see a five and a half hour long production on a weeknight. That was me on Wednesday night. It takes an unparalleled artistic bravado to tackle a sprawling, enigmatic, 900 page novel (1100 in the original Spanish) and adapt it into a compelling and unforgettable night of theatre. That was Robert Falls and Seth Bockley doing just that for The Goodman’s epic production of 2666, based on Roberto Bolaño’s novel. The stage and its inhabitants are transformed throughout the piece with beautiful effects, costumes, and acting, all guided by suburb direction. Marathon theatre is an increasingly popular choice in Chicago and it runs the risk of just not being good enough to sit and not cough for five or more hours. The Goodman and its lucky audiences are not going to run that risk.
The action of the play takes place in Europe and Mexico throughout the 20th century as a group of 1990s professors attempt to track down the elusive author that they have dedicated their lives studying. Meanwhile, in Mexico, young women are being murdered and a scholar is being haunted by his father’s voice. Later, but earlier in the play’s timeline, the elusive author’s life is presented in the style of a strange Prussian fairy tale (it looks as strange as it sounds). All of these stories (and the many branching stories) converge and diverge over the course of five and a half hours. The final effect is a connection to both the human characters, the strange worlds, and the voice of Bolaño, echoing posthumously through the piece.
Of particular note was Walt Spangler’s morphing and evolving scenic design. The high tech displays (Projection Design: Shawn Sagady) juxtaposed against the low tech gravel strewn across the stage is only one example of how the elements combined to create a magical sense of suspense and awe. Additionally, Richard Woodbury and Mikhail Fiksel’s music and sound design were unforgettable and instantly transported the audience into the haunting world of 2666. This was a good thing because the piece has three intermissions.
There was not a weak actor in the ensemble, performing 6 days a week and completely committed to the story and the world. The ensemble never stopped moving as a unit through space and time to express Bolaño’s beautifully frightening world.
Falls and Bockley have directed a production that will be remembered for its bravery and innovation. The use of screens, film, and voiceover seamlessly integrated alongside mime, slow-motion, and direct-address mark this as a successful display of low and high tech theatrical capabilities. I am most interested in what happened offstage, during the pre-production and rehearsal periods. How did this come together? How is it mapped to unfold each night? Or, maybe it I should keep this information as mysterious as Bolaño’s novel.
2666 runs through March 20th. Highly recommended. You will regret missing this theatrical feast. Purchase tickets here.