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House Theatre’s Wilson Wants It All Predicts The Future

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 23, 2010 4:20PM

production photo by John Taflan
To begin, a little history lesson: In the year 2010, a prominent Kennedy-esque (pick one) Senator was expected to announce his candidacy for President, but was assassinated, along with his wife. Their daughter, two weeks from being born, survived and was adopted by the Senator’s Chief of Staff, Wilson, who named her Hope. Fast forward to the present, 2040: There is a severe water shortage, the country’s seven political parties are divided on an issue that essentially amounts to the government controlling who can and can’t have children, and Hope is about to turn 30. You’ll learn all of this at the top of Wilson Wants It All, the newest world-premiere from The House Theatre, so we don’t think we’re spoiling anything.

On her 30th birthday, Hope (Rebekah Ward-Hays), beloved by the country as if she were the actual embodiment of her moniker, is expected to announce her candidacy for the Senate seat held by her father. Although she has been groomed by Wilson (John Henry Roberts) for this moment, she isn’t sure she wants it. Because she has never spoken publicly, no one actually knows who she is. Burdened with the idea that she is whoever each citizen wants her to be, Hope knows there is no way she can live up to their expectations. The choices Hope makes from here - as well as the gradually-revealed past choices made by Wilson - are what make this show so intriguing.

Co-written by Phillip C. Klapperich and Michael Rohd (who also directs), the script asks familiar but important questions and attempts to answer them in a personal way. How can a political figure have an opinion while remaining in the good graces of constituents who might disagree? Do her constituents actually want her to have an opinion, or do they want vague inspirational speeches? What happens when the constituents realize that a single person cannot be a magic band-aid for an entire country?

Wilson Wants It All might be a thinly veiled debate on the nature of American politics, but it isn’t, partly because of Wilson. A puppet-master of sorts, Wilson’s entire life has been spent handling other people. (Sidenote: This is one plot point that irked us - according to the timeline presented, Wilson had worked for Hope’s father for 20 years when he was assassinated. As Hope is now 30, he must be 50 years older than when he began his career, so, likely in his seventies. While we understand the practical reasons for not casting an older actor, it still bothered us occasionally. But we digress.) As the extent of Wilson’s manipulation comes to light, his motivation becomes less clear and he becomes a more enigmatic character.

The other captivating factor for us was the production’s use of technology. In general, we don’t really like it when “stuff” draws focus in a play - it’s pretty easy to layer stuff on top of a script without justifying its existence. The production team’s meaningful, interesting integration of video projections (designed by Lucas Merino) and re-imagined forms of current technology are impressive. There is something very fluid about this interpretation of 2040 - every surface of Collette Pollard’s streamlined set is a projection screen, Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes maintain a natural style despite being almost completely grey, and the combination of Kevin O’Donnell’s music and Tommy Rapley’s movement makes for extremely smooth transitions.

We did have a bit of trouble emotionally connecting to the actors -- some scenes felt overwrought and others felt like pure exposition -- but overall, Wilson Wants It All is a cohesive, thought-provoking and fun show that’s worth seeing.

Wilson Wants It All, through March 27. Tickets $25-$29 ($10 student/industry discount Thurs/Fri/Sun). The House Theatre of Chicago at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division, 773-251-2195.