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The Feast of Saint MacGonagall at The Plagiarists

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The Plagiarists (see Fringe & storefront). By Jessica Wright Buha. Dir. Gregory Peters. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins; no intermission.

William Topaz McGonagall is celebrated—or denigrated—in literary circles as among the worst poets to have written in the English language. But he surely deserves better remembrance than the shrieking trainwreck offered up by the Plagiarists, in which seven actors recount the Scot’s creative life in reverse, from his end to the point, at age 50, when he felt the compulsion to become a poet.

The seven-person ensemble, under the direction of Gregory Peters, trades off a tam-o’-shanter as the actors take possession of the McGonagall character. Except a McGonagall character is never actually established as we move backward through his life events, most of which aren’t terribly eventful. Jessica Wright Buha’s script fails at each and every thing it needs to do: explaining why McGonagall matters, why the artists at hand care about him and why she’s telling his story the way she is. The cast, meanwhile, tries to substitute exuberance for substance—which, come to think of it, might be a proper tribute to McGonagall after all.

Time Out Chicago issue no. 406, December 6–12, 2012