OFFBEAT: Lookingglass captivates with world premiere 'North China Lover'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-10-15T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Lookingglass captivates with world premiere 'North China Lover'By Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago is a performance space that challenges both audiences and creative artists.

Kicking off its 26th Season, Lookingglass Theatre Company is presenting the World Premiere stage adaptation of Marguerite Duras' "The North China Lover," translated by Leigh Hafrey and adapted and directed by ensemble member Heidi Stillman.

It's playing until Nov. 10 at the Lookingglass stage space located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.

This story is billed with the following promo tagline in press releases: "You never forget your first lover. The affair plays like a moving picture over and over in your mind: passionate, consuming, secret, taboo."

"North China Lover" is set in the seamy French Quarter of Southern Indochina in the 1930s where an impoverished schoolgirl's story unfolds with the details of her life that will one day be that of French novelist Duras.

The play, which is just more than 90-minutes without an intermission, is guided with narration by actress Deanna Dunagan, who plays the novelist as her later adult persona, while flashing back to the events of her time at boarding school. While away to gain an education, the young girl, played with earthy realism by actress Rae Gray, meets and becomes drawn to a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese aristocrat.

Rounding out the cast is ensemble member Tracy Walsh in dual roles as "Woman in Red," a socialite with a taste for young men and also portraying a teacher at the boarding school. Walter Owen Briggs plays the aggressive brother Pierre, while JJ Phillips plays the sensitive younger brother. Amy J. Carle does a fine turn as the girl's calculating mother and Tim Chiou, cast as "The Lover," is perfect as the romantic lead to which the play's title refers. The other two cast members on stage are Allison Torem as schoolmate Helene and Betti Xiang as the stage musician.

Directed by ensemble member Heidi Stillman, this is a play with adult themes and nudity. It is engaging and the story moves briskly. There are some moments when having Dunagan as the narrator looming in certain scenes feels distracting and unsettling. Besides the two central characters, there's very little time or devotion to the rest of the key players, which left me yearning to know more about the mother and siblings of this young woman who would one day become such a noted author.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. on the Tuesdays of Oct. 22 and Nov. 5 and every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. shows on the Thursdays of Oct. 17 and 31 and Nov. 7 as well as 7:30 p.m. curtains every Thursday and Friday, with weekend shows at both 3 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets are $36 - $70. FYI: or (312) 337-0665.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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