Playwright: Lucy Kirkwood
At: TimeLine Theatre, 615 Wellington Ave.
Tickets: 773-281-8463 or
Runs through: July 31
Damaging and deadly East-West misunderstandings color Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica, a very substantive 2013 Olivier Award-winning drama by British playwright Lucy Kirkwood that is now making an engrossing slow-burn Chicago debut courtesy of TimeLine Theatre.
Kirkwood starts her drama with the iconic 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre incident of the "Tank Man" protester, as captured by the fictional photojournalist Joe Schofield ( Coburn Goss ). Chimerica then jumps ahead to 2012 as the unmarried and headstrong Schofield pays a return visit to China and meets up with an English teacher friend, Zhang Lin ( Norman Yap ). Joe then suddenly becomes obsessed with finding the identity of that lone man in 1989 who defiantly stood in front of a row of tanks.
Ricocheting between New York and Beijing, Chimerica then splits its time between Joe's driven journalistic quest and Lin being haunted by the spirit of Liuli ( Janell Villas ), who is foreshadowed to have died in the 1989 massacre. Joe faces many complications, including a testy potential romance with the British marketer Tess Kendrick ( Eleni Pappageorge ) and arguments with his newspaper colleagues played by Chris Rickett and H.B. Ward. Lin also faces moral dilemmas in dealing with his brother, Zhang Wei ( Wai Yim ), and his sickly neighbor played by Cheryl Hamada.
Chimerica explores many fundamental differences between Western and Eastern notions of heroism. All the while, Kirkwood also uncovers a number of unsavory cultural aspects of American and Chinese press censorship, immigration inequalities, environmental degradation and so much more.
Chimerica may take a while to get going, plus the many comic buttons that end many scenes feel more aligned to British comic sensibilities than American ones. But ultimately Kirkwood's Chimerica rewards audiences with a compelling mystery and plenty of food for thought on the growing and uncomfortable interconnectedness of East-West relations.
Director Nick Bowling's astute production gives a great sense of scope and drama to Chimerica, aided especially by Mike Tutaj's masterfully curated projection designs. John Culbert's spread-out set design also visually suggests quite a continental divide in views and living conditions between the entwined characters.
Bowling's ensemble cast does a great, in-depth job at getting to the core of their characters, be it in the leading roles or in a number of supporting parts. It's certainly a pleasure to see actors Christine Bunuan, Caron Buinis, Tom Hickey, Dan Lin and their aforementioned colleagues enliven Kirkwood's cutting and insightful text by pointing out innumerable hypocrisies and motivations of Chimerica's complex characters.
Chimerica's near-three-hour running time initially requires some patience. But audiences should be awed and taken aback by the Kirkwood's masterly intertwined story filled with suspense and introspection on the clashing and interrelated ideologies of China and America.