Ash Wednesday falls on March 5 this year, with Christians around the world beginning to prepare themselves for Good Friday and the celebration of Easter during a period of prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
Lent (and I confess that most of what I know about it was learned in art history classes) is the time when the Church invites people to engage in “spiritual combat” against the seven vices — or, as they are more colorfully referred to, the Seven Deadly Sins — attempting to root them out and replace them with virtue.
Now, of course, we all know the theater, which initially emerged from religious rites and ceremonies, can be its own little hotbed of sin, even as it also serves as a forum for empathy, compassion, joy, repentance and enlightenment. So let’s have a little fun here, and consider just where you can find the Seven Deadly Sins on display in productions either on (or soon headed to) Chicago stages:
LUST: “The Playboy of the Western World” (at Raven Theatre), in which all the women of a small Irish village go nuts for a self-dramatizing young stranger; “Venus in Fur” (Goodman Theatre), in which an actress teaches her director a thing or two about sex and power; “Arguendo” (Elevator Repair Service at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater), in which the Supreme Court hears arguments about “exotic dancers” performing nude; “Plainsong” (Signal Ensemble Theatre), in which there is adultery and teen pregnancy; “Cock” (Profiles Theatre), in which a bisexual man is the object of desire of both a gay man and a woman.
GLUTTONY: “Amadeus” (BoHo Theatre at Stage 773), in which the treacherous Italian composer Antonio Salieri confesses to an infantile love of sweets.
GREED: “Russian Transport” (Steppenwolf Theatre), in which a first-generation teenager in Brooklyn’s Russian immigrant community, under the influence of a thuggish Russian uncle, gets caught up in human trafficking; “Golden Boy” (Griffin Theatre at Theater Wit), in which a 21-year-old Depression-era violinist sacrifices his art for fast money and fame as a prizefighter.
SLOTH: “Buzzer” (Goodman Theatre), in which a rich white guy, perpetually underemployed and in rehab, mooches off his successful black friend.
ANGER: “Gypsy” (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), in which Mama Rose rages against those who have walked out on her, as well as her own failure to grab the spotlight); “Into the Woods” (The Hypocrites at The Mercury Theatre), in which The Witch rages against past injustices by casting evil spells.
ENVY: “Amadeus” (at BoHo), in which Salieri is tormented by the knowledge that Mozart possesses the divine spark of genius he lacks.
PRIDE: “Miss Marx” (at Strawdog Theatre), in which Karl Marx’s youngest daughter struggles to reconcile her feminist pride with her emotional ties to an unfaithful lover; “Hedda Gabler” (at Writers’ Theatre), in which the malcontent title character believes she is superior to almost everyone in her midst.