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American Storm at Theatre Seven of Chicago

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Theatre Seven of Chicago. By Carter W. Lewis. Dir. Brian Golden. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.

Carter W. Lewis’s small-town drama strives for large-scale themes. Set in 1962 around a fictional Ohio horse-racing track, American Storm tries to live up to its title, presenting the American moment in microcosm. Trainer Jakey Hanks (Lucy Carapetyan) takes care of the stable’s animals and her younger brother, Stuck (Johnny Meyer), a prodigy when it comes to recalling racing stats but otherwise “touched.” Stuck’s best friend is Martin (Destin Teamer), the town’s lone black kid, who works as a groomer. The track is owned by the wealthy Mr. Duffet (Scott Anderson),whose social-climber wife (Susie Griffith) wants Weldon Downs to become as much a destination as Churchill. Then there’s the Cuban immigrant jockey (Anthony DiNicola) who’s married to the white daughter (Hilary Williams) of the bigoted track secretary (Sean Sinitski). And that’s only about half the cast of characters.

Lewis sets up these soap-opera elements with skill. The connections among the denizens of Weldon are engagingly revealed for the most part;the plot kicks into high gear when Jakey’s horse, American Storm, is discovered to be a record breaker. But the playwright’s efforts to connect the events in Ohio with the state of the union are more strained. All the discussion of evolving race relations and the Kennedys and the Cuban Missile Crisis makes the interpersonal drama feel more contrived. Donna McGough and the young actors, Teamer and Meyer, stand out among the large, uneven ensemble, but Brian Golden’s production tends to get bogged down by traffic jams on the small stage.

Time Out Chicago issue no. 405, Nov 29–Dec 5, 2012