Yes, That Guy has been away for a bit. Yes, that means I missed "Little Shop of Horrors" and "A Month of Sundays", and "The Female of the Species" and "The Popular Mechanicals" and a bunch of other things that played in Canberra while I was away. However, this means I have seen things in other parts of the world which I'm going to review. And you get to read them.
First up is "The Wheel" - a big-scale brechtian drama about war. Why go see it? Well, the big attraction here is Joan Allen returning to Steppenwolf after a couple of decades ago away of becoming an internationally renowned film actress - she plays Beatriz, a woman from a peaceful village in Northern Spain who's suddenly thrust into looking after a young girl when a war is declared and the girl's father goes missing. Her quest to find the father gets increasingly surrealistic and runs through multiple wars (WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan are among the wars visually referenced). And like the best of Brecht, it's big-scaled theatre with a strong, solid, central performance at the centre. Unfortunately, unlike the best of Brecht, it doesn't quite find an adequate ending, and the surrealism makes it a very "and then this happened" play rather than something with a strong spine. Instead, the ending chooses a "back to the beginning" structure (which, I suppose, the title suggests it should) with some indications that maybe on the next cycle things may change slightly... but without really paying off.
Allen grounds it as well as, I think, it possibly can be grounded. She's tough yet compassionate, radiating intelligence and determination. The physical production, too, is impressive - it uses the entirety of the stage space, eventually stripping it back so we can see the wings and the set-structures. There's mud and dirt and explosions and a fair bit of spectacle too ... this is theatre that gives the eyes a fair bit.
I'm glad I saw this. Steppenwolf is one of America's premiere companies for a reason - starting as a three member ensemble, it's now grown to an ensemble of 40-odd with a strong actor-based focus dedicated to presenting theatre that challenges, excites and thrills. It may veer on the edge of pretentious for some, but ... I found enough to enjoy to get away with the pretension.