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Steinhagen's "Successors" Skewers Chicago Politics

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by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

When: Through March 2
Where: Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice
Tickets: $20
Info: (773) 698-7389; www.signalensemble.com
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission)

Any resemblance to the Daley dynasty of Chicago is no doubt entirely intentional in "Successors," Jon Steinhagen's laugh-out-loudsatire (and comedy of bad manners) about politics, family and warped ambition, now receiving a zesty world premiere by the Signal Ensemble Theatre.

To begin with, there is something wholly familiar about the way Mayor Kenton DeKoven (Vincent Lonergan), a man in deep middle age -- and the son and grandson of former long-ruling mayors -- makes a wholly unexpected announcement that he will not be running for re-election. Nor will he be endorsing "a successor" from among any of his three children. Nor does he have any intention of backing his sweaty nephew, Lou (Steinhagen), long his chief administrative operative, who still lives with his mother, Mae (Barbara Roeder Harris, an absolute hoot), the Mayor's elderly, exceedingly salty sister.

And then there is that classic bungalow back yard -- the enduring icon of DeKoven, a "man of the people" who is determined to keep his working-class roots visible while his still pretty, "she who must be obeyed" wife, Nancy (Mary O'Dowd), rules the roost. (Cheers for set designer Melania Lancy, who clearly paid a visit to Bridgeport.)

Of course much is invention here. And Steinhagen -- the prolific writer-actor-musician whose clever, wildly varied plays range from "The Analytical Engine" to Blizzard of '67" -- not only has a terrific feel for Chicago's damaged but enduring political DNA, but for what makes extended families tick and audiences chuckle.

Hot for his father's nod in this decidedly patriarchal family is Martin (Colby Sellers), the financially successful oldest son, who has a wife, Janet (Meredith Bell Alvarez), and a college-bound son, Tyler (the adorable Danny Mulae), who has brought his cute girlfriend, Amber (Ariel Begley), to a family Labor Day party. Also vying fiercely for her dad's attention (think comic "King Lear" here) is Martin's angry-at-the-world sister, Patricia (Anne Sheridan Smith), whose husband, Palmer (Joseph Stearns), is a specialist in Arab poetry (and thus a political liability). Looking on is the black sheep of the family, Scott (Bries Vannon), who has a rap sheet, and a sexy partner, Stacy (Simone Roos).

Suffice it to say, some toxic family food, too much alcohol and severe sibling rivalry result in verbal fireworks, arm-wrestling and more as Ronan Marra directs a shrewdly chosen cast of 12.

"Succcessors" would benefit from a good trim. But Steinhagen, a brainy vulgarian, has penned enough hardcore laughs and spot-on observations to keep you fully engaged in this tale of a family that has been "on the make" for far too long.

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This page contains a single entry by Hedy Weiss published on January 30, 2013 2:42 PM.

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