Stage: Up

In Bridget Carpenter’s drama, “dream meets delusion” when an eccentric inventor and nonconformist decides to confront the world of the 9-to-5 Everyman.

Steppenwolf Theatre


(312) 335-1650

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Not to be confused with the new animated film of the same name, Up is “a story for all the one-hit wonders and split-second reality-show celebrities of the world,” said Steven Oxman in Variety. Bridget Carpenter’s drama begins at the point where “dream meets delusion,” 15 years after the play’s protagonist, Walter Griffin, achieved fleeting fame by tying a cluster of helium balloons to a lawn chair and taking brief flight. His head is still in the proverbial clouds, and he spends his days cooking up prototypes for flying machines that he never builds—to the increasing dismay of his wife, Helen, and his teenage son, Mikey, who begin to lose patience with Walter’s snowballing “detachment from the practical.”

We’ve all known our share of Walters, said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. Helen also represents a particularly American kind of dilemma: whether to encourage her husband to “pursue­ the kind of esoteric quest that does not come with health insurance” or to “insist on a dose of realism.” Carpenter’s well-crafted characters are “mostly reasonable people” in search of some “sort of balance between love, support, and survival” in a society whose “economic pecking order has never exactly embraced the nonconformist.” Her play is most ­successful in moments that evoke both ­sadness and humor, such as when Walter dons a gray suit and promises the family he’ll join the world of the 9-to-5 Everyman. It’s an honest gesture, even if he “looks like a shaggy dog obliged to dress in denial of his own identity.”

Thankfully, “Up isn’t as cloyingly, whimsically quirky” as all this may sound, said Kris Vire in Time Out Chicago. Carpenter “writes some lovely domestic scenes,” and shows promise as a teller of kitchen-sink stage dramas. The production also benefits from great performances. As Walter, Ian Barford is terrific, and a subplot involving Mikey and his girlfriend turns out to be a showcase for young actors Jake Cohen and Rachel Brosnahan. I only wish that Carpenter would have closed the script’s gaping holes—most notably, the question of whether Walter is an “eccentric to be admired” or simply “mentally ill.”

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