The Jokes’ Asses––regarding Chicago (London, Pheonix Theatre, 2018)

Consider: satire might be thought of as a sardonic, refractive social commentary––a beam of taint-light, say, cast from a writer, toward and against and from a mirror, and into an audience’s delighted eyes. But we sometimes forget that the subject of satire is us, the audience; we are derided and ridiculed by the satirical play; we are seen and scorned (and chuckle). We are the jokes’ asses. (“Hey, suckers,” Roxie begins Act II, rippling a giggle through the crowd.) And to those whom, after laughter mellows, reflection pursues, witnessing satire seems to be a healthy process, like––should artists be the immune system of society’s body––the inflammation, or aches, or boils of an embodied disease illuminating itself with agglutinations of white blood cells.

Through the lens of this performance of Chicago, and with a little knowledge of recent American history, that hill-top city seems to have inverted into a dark pit writhing with lustful, celebrity-worshipping, uncritical fools. (The satire’s perfect audience, then, likewise bears these adjectives.) The pit’s ribbed with falling tributaries of snake-oil, eddies of hucksterish priests, outcrops of beleagured proletariats, anonymous housewives, congested jails, and battered ideals––today thinkable-of as fragments broken from Plymouth Rock (which type of rock, by the way, typifying the mammoth contrast between America’s words and America’s deeds, is poetically called glacial erratic)–– as well as host to, lest we forget, sitting as the current comma upon the sentence of the world, a president most personally recognizable to the populace as a fucking reality-show host.

“It’s all showbiz,” says Billy Flynn, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.––a hollywood actor, remember, best known for the line (which he’s doubtless heard multiply daily barked through him by (in?)complete strangers in the film celebrity-crazed America we know and regret) “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”––who, himself, perhaps, upon the extended self-reflection and critical awareness of one’s impression on public consciousness caused by past work, which is perhaps necessary to empower a serious actor’s trajectory, epitomizes the performance (con-)artist playing to an obliviously enrapt American audience, regarding whom Flynn asks, “How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”.

Casting Gooding Jr., outclassed as a singer though he was, strung a rope ladder, festooned with tributaries of snake oil, from the pit’s lip to its nadir.

And perhaps American audiences, perhaps even global audiences, have opted for sequins because humans need belief, require fiction, to exist. We evolved, after all, into our unique capacity to navigate, bludgeon, and beautify ‘our’ world by means of the languages we developed to tell stories, to reflect the world we inhabited, through narratives which prepared us for the infinite set of dangers and pains we would face therein. And so story we innately prefer––aware as we are of our susceptibility to death, to the pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office––to reality.

Story, then, we used to avoid the variety of fatal traps our mortal coils couldn’t govern. No wonder that we ended with story’s fullest evolution, fantasy, and were depicted in this production as boiling in the kind of deadly trap we first took shape to avoid.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s