City Lit Spotlights Faith and Females in the Book of J.B.

Judy Lea steele (foregorund), Barbara Roeder-Harris, Elaine Carlson, Stephanie Monday (left to right, background). Photo by Tom McGrath. “Meet you at the ‘old broad’ play,” my plus one said. We, being crones ourselves, and veterans of all-female companies Babes With Blades and Footsteps, were looking forward to a play entirely performed by women over age 55. Director Brian Pastor assembled nine women to play the 23 roles in Glencoe native and poet Archibald MacLeish’s interpretation of the Book of Job, 1958’s J.B., winner of the Tony and the Pulitzer that year. Under a circus big top, balloon and popcorn vendors assume the mantles (perfect period/periodless costumes by Alaina Moore) and masks (striking work by David Knezz) of God and Satan to replay the tale of the tested and tortured man (God says the man will remain faithful under duress; Satan bets the other side). Zuss, aka Zeus/God (Elaine Carlson) and Nickles, aka Old Nick/The Devil (Morgan McCabe) preside over the story unfolding in the ring, where prosperous banker J.B. (Stephanie Monday) leads a lovely life with his wife Sarah (Judy Lea Steele) and his children, before he loses them to war and a car accident (and his skin to boils). Each successive tragedy is punctuated by Zuss banging an Irish bodhrán drum. The performances are universally solid, anchoring a somewhat meandering narrative. The two leads and three others (the figures of history, science and religion) execute excellent mask work, giving the Biblical story a Greek chorus vibe. However, the choice to make the male characters speak in their lower registers was unnecessary—the gender fluidity would have been more effective if actors had been allowed to “just be.” The nature of fealty is timely this week, as Alabamians are being asked to choose pedophilia over prudence just to play politics. What is faith and if it’s perverted, what is the outcome? Should we be grateful for whatever we receive? I am grateful that women are getting more space on stage and in the zeitgeist outside the theater. And continuing to have the ability to give thanks is indeed a Thanksgiving miracle. J.B. runs at City Lit Theater, now in its 37th season, at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., through December 10, on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 3pm (added Monday 7:30pm shows on November 20 and December 4). Tickets are $12-$32, and available online or at 773-293-3682.
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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.