Review: Promethean’s A Town Called Progress Provides Some Humor But Takes Itself Too Seriously
Ida is smart and tough. She’s mayor and police chief in her new town of Progress, but she still can’t get the pump to pump water. At least that’s the first problem Cameron Feagin as Ida deals with as the play opens. A Town Called Progress, a world premiere by Trina Kakacek, is being staged by Promethean Theatre Ensemble on a stage designed as if it’s a rustic village at some random time, past or future. The location is somewhere between the towns of Backward and Conspiratorial.
Anne C. Bahow is director; Jeremiah Barr gets creative credit for scenic, props and technical design.
Vivian is the only other resident. We know this because of the signs posted at the village entry. “Progress: Population 2—for Now.” Also “Help Wanted With Heavy Lifting. Pay: Fresh eggs and some bacon.” Vivian (played by Kali Skatchke), wants to do more to help Progress grow. When Ida found Vivian, she was living in a stairwell in the town of Backward (where men are in charge of everything including the key to the gate of reproductive freedom). Ida has assigned Vivian to be in charge of pigs and chickens, and the outhouse every other week; she’s also the cook at the new café. Ida has promised Vivian she’ll be the leader in populating the new town. But Vivian is eager to do more to help—because she’s bored. That leads the mayor to remind her of one of her mottoes: “Boredom breeds stability.” Another one is: “Things being easy is a trap.” And, “We don’t need men.”
Weed, a lonesome cowboy (Chris Woolsey), rolls into in town disguised as a giant tumbleweed. He’s fond of bacon and likes wearing Ida’s wraparound blue print dress. It soon is clear that he’s more than happy to help Vivian make a baby–transactionally. His proviso is that he gets to name the newborn—and later we meet the baby named Bear. (There are family precedents in Weed’s life.)
Another newcomer is Slim (Teri Talo), who has helpful business and financial knowledge. Slim also knows how to fix the well and can take on other chores. Slim and Vivian fall in love almost instantly.
The plot includes simulated sex (modestly covered up) and a live birth on stage. (The play is recommended for age 18 and over.)
Mayor Ida is committed to building a new matriarchal utopia out in the wilderness—where women are on top. It’s a noble goal, but the whole storyline too often falls into the realm of silliness. Competition is based on winning an arm-wrestling contest. There are lots of sly comments about planting seeds. In a town where feminist strength is valued and men aren’t, it seems more than ironic that Ida assigns Vivian to be a baby-making machine (and Vivian is more than willing). K
LI Bahow’s direction keeps the story moving but the slight nature of the play suggests it should be trimmed to 90 minutes with no intermission, rather than two acts. The four cast members all perform capably; Feagin’s performance as Ida is a highlight. Sound design is by Emily Hayman and lighting by Karen Wallace. Costumes are by Rachel M. Sypniewski.
A Town Called Progress doesn’t seem clear on its theatrical identity. Is it a comedy or a drama? The theater’s publicity calls it a modern fable that “explores the challenges of creating a society based on gender and economic equality.” Subtlety is not one of its attributes.
The digital program’s appreciation guide by dramaturg Andres Coronado includes brief but serious essays on feminism, sexuality and gender performance; the man problem; trans-masculinity; and utopias, as well as a reading list. The section titled “Stuff to think and talk about” provides some interesting conversation questions.
A Town Called Progress by Promethean Theatre Ensemble continues at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., through April 15. Running time is two hours including one intermission. Tickets are $26 with $21 tickets for seniors, students and military.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!