Review: Streeterville (Theatre-Hikes)

| August 22, 2012
Nick Bonges as Alderman Palmer and Sarah Elizabeth Helt as Mrs. Healy, in Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)        

Written by G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert  
Directed by Brian Rabinowitz
Performed at various locations (see below)
thru Sept 2  |  tickets: $0-$15   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


An expedition through nature into Chicago’s history


The entire cast of Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)

Theatre-Hikes presents

Review by Keith Glab

For the past 11 years, Theatre-Hikes has pioneered a combination of… wait for it… theatre and hiking. Parks, arboretums, and other pockets of nature within Chicago’s urban climate serve as venues for this experience. Plays are broken up into a handful of scenes that take place at different locations around the venue, and audiences are guided by a hike leader from scene to scene.

Daniel Lehner as Judge Dunne, Nick Bonges as Alderman Palmer and Sarah Elizabeth Helt as Mrs. Healy, in Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)Buckets and pads are provided for use during the scenes, but patrons are welcome to bring their own blankets or camping chairs. Some settings also feature picnic benches, logs, or other built-in seating options. A couple of the actors play music as the group hikes to the first scene. (Water and other provisions are not offered, which is a missed opportunity both as a means of generating revenue and as a courtesy to the patrons embarking on this two-and-a-half hour journey.)

I attended Streeterville, the third of Theatre-Hikes’ five shows this season, at beautiful North Park Village Nature Center. The story of George Wellington “Cap” Streeter (Sean Thomas) and his foundation of The District of Lake Michigan unfolds across four scenes. At North Park, a section of the trail riddled with dead logs became the ideal spot for the Reutan’s shipwreck. A pond was aptly utilized to convey a lakeside setting in the second scene. The final two settings were less scene-appropriate, but still picturesque.

Our hike leader (Bradley Baker) warns of strong language and that the hike is technically for ages eight and up, but this is an ideal way to expose children to theatre. The fresh air, inclusion of music, and dynamic settings help hold the attention of youngsters for over two hours of performance. In this case, the rather archetypal characters (a crooked politician, a prostitute seeking redemption, a wealthy couple acting selfishly) and plotlines (marriage, a play-within-a-play, courtroom scenes) are also better-suited for theatre neophytes than theatre geeks. The language isn’t as strong as the average primetime TV drama.

Even the acting, which is more grandiose than naturalistic due to the need to compete with traffic sounds, geese, and other distractions found in outdoor settings, lends itself well to children. (There was a comical moment when the line, “I never noticed how quiet it is by the lakefront” was uttered as an airplane roared overhead). Although the acting is big, it rarely bleeds into the realm of overdoing it. Thomas as Streeter and Steve Parks as the vagabond Klondike (who handles intermittent narration) carry the action with memorable, larger-than-life characters that nevertheless feature nice moments of subtlety. Amanda Lynn Meyer and David Fink also stand out in their supporting roles. Meyer gives Jane a complexity and ambivalence missing in many of the other characters while Fink deftly transforms from an eager news reporter to a comically inebriated Polish immigrant to a menacing hired gunman to a somber priest.

Brian Rabinowitz as N.K. Fairbank, Daniel Lehner as Judge Dunne, Nick Bonges as Alderman Palmer and Sarah Elizabeth Helt as Mrs. Healy, in Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)

Some of the actors, when not onstage, provide simple sound effects for the scene behind the audience. There is a minimalist use of props, and Director Brian Rabinowitz keeps the blocking simple, a necessity when performing at multiple venues. The costumes really stand out amongst the production values, instantly transporting the audience into the late 19th-century.

This insight into the formation of the neighborhood we still know as Streeterville proves educational not only for the children in attendance, but for the adults as well. It’s an intriguing story that every Chicagoan should know but most do not, and it’s told in an interesting and very aesthetically pleasing manner by Theatre-Hikes.

Rating: ★★★

Streeterville continues through September 2nd, with performances at Blue Island Central Park, 13000 S. Western (map) on August 26th at 4pm and Pullman State Historic Site, 11111 S. Forrestville (map) on September 1st & 2nd at 1pm.  Admission is free at Blue Island and $7.50-$15 at Pullman. Tickets are available through their website. More info at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, which includes hiking time between scenes. Run time may vary slightly between venues)

Setting the scene for Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)

Photos by Bradley Baker




Jocelyn Adamski (Helen Collins), Nick Bonges (Alderman Palmer), David Fink (Lasley, Kirk, Aleski, others), Sarah Elizabeth Helt (Mrs. Healy), Daniel Lehner (Mayor Creiger, Judge Dunne), Amanda Lynn Meyer (Jane Bawn), Steve Parks (Klondike Hoeldtke), Brian Rabinowitz (N.K. Fairbank), Keta Roth (Maria Streeter), Justin Schaller (Nooner), Brendan T. Stallings (Billy McManners), Sean Thomas (Cap Streeter)

behind the scenes

Brian Rabinowitz (director); Tim Vana (music director); Rocco Renda (costumes); Jason Rutkowski (stage manager); Bradley Baker (photos, props, hike leader); Matthew Powell (props); Samantha Heindl (hike leader); Mother Nature (lighting)

Keta Roth, as Marie Streeter, dances with hall girls before shipwreck, in Theatre-Hikes' "Streeterville", directed by Brian Rabinowitz. (photo credit: Bradley Baker)


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Category: 2012 Reviews, Chicago Park District, Keith Glab, New Work, Theatre-Hikes, World Premier

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