Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.
I’m the kind to charge irritably through intersections, head down, phone to my ear, refusing to lock eyes with anyone in my periphery for fear of being asked for money, harassed, followed home. The young idealists with clip boards inquiring, “Got a minute for Greenpeace/Lake Michigan/Gay Rights?” Mentally I support them, still, I’ve been known to respond “What about broke writers, got a minute for me?” Or once, nastily, “Do I look like I have a minute, I’m on the phone!” Usually I blame the city; disconnected, overwhelming, impossible to negotiate without growing numb.
But some magical people make neighborhoods out of cities, communities from scattered passersby. Chicago artist, poet, actor and playwright Tony Fitzpatrick is one such magician. His show, This Train, which debuted at Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater, completes its short run this weekend at Steppenwolf.
“When I met Tony for the first time,” says 16th street Theater Artistic Director Ann Filmer, “I was so struck by him; I knew I would say yes to whatever he wanted to do at my theater.”
Turns out Fitzpatrick had in mind a hypnotic blend of music, poetry, visual art and storytelling. To truly understand Fitzpatrick’s vision, Filmer “spent several days in Tony's studio, where he creates art looking out upon Damen Avenue. [The] studio is like no place I’ve ever been. People always coming in and out: interns, hustlers, collectors, people from the 'hood; rants about art dealers, and stories, stories and more stories.”
Those stories, interspersed with scraps of Fitzpatrick’s poetry set to music, create something more universal than the zig-zagging elegy to vagrants, outlaws and Chicago the play superficially appears. While Fitzpatrick, foul-mouthed and opinionated, seems an unlikely unifier, the crystalline specificity of his language and his uniquely expansive worldview makes “This Train” uniquely accessible, even – to borrow a treacley phrase – life-affirming. One leaves the theater feeling part of a community, Fitzpatrick having remade the city through the transformative power of his words.
Just four more chances to catch “This Train” (see what I did there?) before it closes, so fire up that internet and order tickets now.