Getting Ahead – Lesson One: Try Again

by Kathy on September 20, 2013 · 2 comments

in Change, Mistakes, Relationships, Steppenwolf, Theater

“Hell is reliving our mistakes over and over again.” ~ The Wheel by Zinnie Harris

Redemption is getting a second chance and doing things differently.

On Sunday evening Bob and I, along with another couple, got to see The Wheel at Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago. It is the first play of the 2013-14 Season and our first time having season tickets.

In recent years we have been to a few plays at Steppenwolf, two of which I wrote about here (Sex with Strangers and Clybourne Park). Since my parents, as well as my sister and brother-in-law, have been season ticket holders for years, in the past they have recommend favorites here and there, which then Bob and I went to see.

I have wanted to get season tickets for a while and it is such a thrill for me to finally be in a time in our life when we can afford to do this. We decided to get our season tickets with local friends, so I look forward to getting to experience each of the five shows with them. Also, we chose one of the more economical season ticket options, which allows us to see each show during the previews. So though it is possible the director and actors may still make some changes before the shows officially open, we get to be among the first to see them!

I intend to write and share about each of the five shows this season here. Especially for those who are local to the Chicago area or might be traveling here during each production’s run, hopefully you can get a sense of whether they’re ones you are interested in seeing for yourselves.

One of the many things I love about Steppenwolf is that every season has a central theme. Each of the five shows they pick have a connection to that theme. The 2013-14 season’s theme is Getting Ahead.

When we entered the theatre, we saw the above description painted on the wall about Getting Ahead. We also saw these questions and phrases inviting audience members to contemplate the theme as they arrive for each show this season.

The Wheel is a powerful and complex way to kick off the season. It challenged me think about what motivates us to make certain choices in life, especially when it comes to our relationships. I also was struck by how The Wheel addresses redemption and the idea that people will do the right thing or at least something different, if we’re given another chance. I don’t want to give too much away here, for those who might have the opportunity to see the play (which runs through November 10th), as the element of surprise adds a lot to this story.

The Wheel begins in the 19th century on a farm in Spain as war is breaking out. Director and ensemble member Tina Landau, along with the design crew, did an incredible job bringing this piece to life on stage. I felt like I was part of the action as the actors were often moving through the aisles and around the theatre as they performed. They used the stage in such interesting and unique ways to convey the story, which involved the main characters doing a lot of traveling.

The lead, Beatriz, is played by Joan Allen who is a Steppenwolf ensemble member and known for her roles in movies such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Nixon, The Crucible, The Contender, Pleasantville, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. I thought Joan was awesome as Beatriz and could relate her character, who feels responsible for most everyone she encounters on her journey, though often reluctantly.

The Wheel deals with what can happen when our good intentions don’t always lead to positive outcomes. The characters explore how people can have very different perceptions and experiences while witnessing the same events. It also shows how a particular person, even a child, can be viewed as a savor by some and a demon through others’ eyes. I am learning that it’s typical for Steppenwolf productions to have many layers to interpret and The Wheel was no exception.

I would have loved to stay for the post-show discussion, which is such a cool thing Steppenwolf offers audiences after every show. However one member of our group wasn’t feeling well, so we went home right after the play. I waited until our ride home to read Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey’s welcome letter (on pages 4 – 5) and a fascinating excerpt from a discussion with Lavey and Director of The Wheel Tina Landau (on pages 25 – 26) in the program, as to not go in with preconceived notions as to what the play is about. It definitely allowed me to be surprised as the characters’ journey unfolded. But after reading Lavey and Landau’s takes and insights, I was able to better understand The Wheel.

“At the heart of the play is the question about history repeating itself and the role of individual consciousness and agency in the larger sweep of human experience…. If our actions cannot change the course of human history does that relieve us from the responsibility for moral action? ~ Martha Lavey

I was left with so much to ponder after seeing The Wheel and am considering trying to see it again if I can find the time between now and early November. I am anxious to hear what my parents think when they see it in late October and if any of you are able to get there or have seen it performed somewhere else, I would also love to hear your impressions.

In the same way I waited to really dig into the program for The Wheel until after I saw it, I have refrained from Googling the play, as I didn’t want my blog entry here to be influenced by reading others’ reviews and discussions. However, I am excited to do so after I post this and may add an update if I find any links or quotes worth sharing.

The next show we are scheduled to see at Steppenwolf is called Tribes by Nina Raine. I look forward to sharing about it after we see it in early December.

Do you enjoy going to the theatre?

Have you seen in any good plays or musicals lately?

What do you think about the questions Martha Lavey poses?

Do you think we should feel morally responsible for our actions if they cannot change the course of history?

Do you believe in being good and just, for their own sake? 

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