Review: Zürich (Steep Theatre)

| October 10, 2018

Cole Keriazakos stars in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM)  


Written by Amelia Roper
Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map)   
thru Nov 10  |  tix: $27-$38  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Normal people don’t travel alone…


Brandon Rivera and Valerie Gorman star in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM)

Steep Theatre presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Zürich’s five vignettes are all set in hotel rooms on the fortieth floor, in the play’s titular city. In one room, a man sings with his penis out. In another, two children left alone make a horrifying discovery in their father’s suitcase. Each vignette is a mini-universe, much like a hotel room itself. The first three vignettes of Zürich are darkly funny and fascinating, the fourth passable, the fifth and final so utterly ridiculous that the final blackout was a blessing. When Amelia Roper’s writing and Brad DeFabo Akin’s direction are good, they’re very, very good. When they’re bad they’re…not horrid, but cliché and uninteresting.

Elizabeth Wigley and Debo Balogun star in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM)Zürich premiered in New York last spring to critical acclaim, and its playwright is currently working on the hit Netflix series GLOW. Most scenes in Zürich are two-handers, and Roper’s extensive television and film writing experience is on full, glorious display. As a singer (Jeff Kurysz) and a beleaguered divorcée (Sasha Smith) navigate morning-after awkwardness while also trying to figure out whose room they’re actually in, their banter is sharp, hilarious and ever-so-slightly creepy. The mood carries over to the next vignette, as an American lawyer (Debo Balogun) struggles to confide in a cheerful, impassive hotel maid (Elizabeth Wigley, in the production’s strongest, most nuanced performance). As Zürich progresses, different characters show up in each other’s rooms, and the whole weirdness of a hotel environment comes into play.

When you really think about it, hotels are just plain strange. A whole building full of people just passing through for whatever reason – and in a major tourist city like Zürich, the reasons are many – living out their lives in contained, clean little boxes. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s scenic design, the aforementioned glass box, is like looking in the room of a large dollhouse. One can see and hear the players perfectly, and can almost reach in and touch them, maybe even manipulate them like toys. However, when all is said and done, the people are closed off, isolated from observers and from the world at large. At one point, the maid encourages the lawyer to go out for a walk, see the river. He responds glumly that he can see the river from his window. Moments like this are mundane on the surface but supremely telling, and deftly staged by Akin to showcase the best of Roper’s writing.

Jeff Kurysz and Sasha Smith star in Zürich, Steep Theatre (GG)Cole Keriazakos stars in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM) Julia Dale stars in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM)Elizabeth Wigley and Debo Balogun star in Zürich at Steep Theatre (GG)

If only this energy carried through from beginning to end. It very nearly happens: the fourth vignette is mainly a harried middle-aged woman (Cindy Marker) yelling on the phone in a thick German accent, which gets singularly unpleasant and repetitive after the first few minutes. However, the scene is saved by the constant presence of her young daughter (Julia Dale or Paula Hlava alternating), who skips around the apartment, playing with minibottles of liquor and tampons, acting exactly like, well, a bored kid in a hotel room.

The fifth and final vignette is by far the worst. Though both players (Valerie Gorman and Brandon Rivera) do a fine job with character work and chemistry, Roper’s writing reeks of trying too hard and plays like a bad Netflix pilot. The device of two characters having a philosophical discussion while assembling a bomb is both ubiquitous and completely tired by now. Also, the frustrated old woman and her anarchist nursing home orderly never present a clear motivation of why exactly they want to blow up a hotel full of innocent people – in Zürich, nonetheless, considering that both quote Martin Luther King extensively and give all appearance of being American.

This vignette, plus designer Becca Jeffords’ odd decision to use flashing lights during every transition (they reflect off the glass windows in an unpleasant way, and the majority of the mainly-older audience was covering their eyes), keeps Zürich from reaching its full potential. Roper’s writing is best when she presents ordinary people in surreal situations that can only happen in a hotel: drunken hookups with strangers, rummaging through your parents’ suitcases, telling your maid that your three-year-old daughter put glitter on that drawing to make it magic. These are the moments that shine – they’re natural, but almost hyper-real. “Normal people don’t travel alone,” the singer tells his lover, and watching Zürich, the audience believes him.

Rating: ★★★

Zürich continues through November 10th at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $27-$38 (access tickets: $10), and are available by phone (773-649-3186) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). For more information, including a complete schedule, go to time: 1 hour 45 minutes without intermission. Note: this production includes nudity, gunshots and flashing lights.)

Cole Keriazakos and Maya Lou Hlava star in Zürich at Steep Theatre (LM)

Photos by Lee Miller and Gregg Gilman




Sasha Smith (She), Jeff Kurysz (He), Debo Balogun (Guy), Elizabeth Wigley (Maid), Maya Lou Hlava (Girl), Cole Keriazakos (Boy), Cindy Marker (Emily), Julia Dale, Paula Hlava (Fryda, alternating), Valerie Gorman (One), Brandon Rivera (Two)

Understudies: Amber Sallis, Elijah Cox, Ian Voltaire Deanes, Anna Donnell, Lainie Wieshuber, Sean Zielinski, Lorraine Freund

behind the scenes

Brad DeFabo Akin (director), Lauren Lassus (stage manager), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (set design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Kevin Rolfs (props design), Adam Goldstein (dialect coach), Sarah Scanlon (intimacy director), Gaby Labotka (fight director, assistant intimacy director), Catherine Allen (production manager), AJ Schwartz (assistant director), Serena Duffy (assistant stage manager), Lee Miller, Gregg Gilman (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Emily Whalen, Steep Theatre

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