CHIMERICA—a Story for Today, Tomorrow, and Generations to Come

CHIMERICA—a Story for Today, Tomorrow, and Generations to Come

Dan Lin, Janelle Villas and Norman Yap in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of CHIMERICA by Lucy Kirkwood. Photo by Lara Goetsch.

Review: CHIMERICA at TimeLine Theatre

By Abigail Trabue

The relationship between America and China is complicated, and in a political season where China’s economic power is a constant talking point, Timeline’s production of CHIMERICA seems as timely as it is mentally exhausting.

CHIMERICA in many ways is about heroism and what it can do to both a person who’s driven to find it and a person desperate to run away from it. Joe Schofield, a photographer (Coburn Goss), finds himself on assignment during the Tiananmen Square massacre. From his hotel room, he witnesses and photographs “Tank Man” standing down a line of tanks headed for the square. Flash forward 23 years later and this iconic photo continues to define Joe’s life, both professionally and personally, as we see him arrive back in Beijing to visit his friend Zhang Lin (Norman Yap)—a man who too has felt the overwhelming personal impact of a post-Tiananmen Square China. The play propels forward as Joe and writer Mel Stanwyck (Chris Rickett) convince their editor that tracking down “Tank Man” is a story worth publishing. It’s the election season of 2012—a time when the political and economic power of China was at the forefront of Presidential debates with neither party seeing eye to eye (not much has changed on that matter, has it?).

The story is complicated, and thought-provoking, and one that doesn’t lend itself to a review breakdown, so let me stop and say this – You need to see this show with someone, have a beer afterward, and discuss it. There is no other way to fully digest Lucy Kirkwood’s story, but to talk with someone who has experienced it. And while it took a bit for the script, the actors and the audience to settle into this 3-hour adventure at Timeline, once we did we were all in it together till the heartbreaking, but slightly unsurprising end.

While Kirkwood’s writing will give you much food for thought, so will the sound and projection designs. The harmony between sound designer Andrew Pluess and projection designer Mike Tutaj has created the most cohesive use of the two elements I’ve seen on the stage. Pluess’ meticulous environmental design catapults us into the world of the play, and Tutaj’s work should serve as a masterclass in how to intensify a show with projections, rather than rely on them.

The entire ensemble is dependable, but it’s the supporting players that steal the spotlight from Goss and Yap. Dan Lin and Janelle Villas, who play Luili and Young Zhang Li, add a much-needed layer of love, warmth, and personal connection that makes this story work for older Zhang Lin (and frankly for us too, after being beaten over the head with the difficulties of relationships, kids, and families). Their connection is gentle, and Villas is captivating as the ghost that haunts older Zhang Lin. Caron Buinis takes on many roles and each time she is not Caron Buinis playing another part, but a fully developed member of the play. She’s an incredible character actress with a talent for developing a character who only has a few lines.

The layers between China and the U.S. on a political and economic standpoint are food enough to fuel a lifetime of consideration, but Chimerica goes beyond its namesake and delves into the personal, individual, and unpleasant relationship that is the East and the West. Timeline’s stories are inspired by history, and this one certainly fits the bill, but this is also a story of today, a story of tomorrow, and a story for generations to come.

CHIMERICA plays through July 31st. For tickets and more information, visit timelinetheatre.com

About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue

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