The Adventures Of Augie March
The adaptation of Saul Bellow's epic novel tells a sobering story about finding one's place in a complex world
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In the midst of Augie’s penchant for fracturing the law, he frequently exhibits a healthy level of protection for family, particularly his visually impaired mother (Chaon Cross) and his developmentally disabled brother Georgie (Travis Turner), who rarely speaks and seems to find solace when he sprawls on the floor and slithers around in slow, snakelike movements. It is Augie who protests the loudest during a family meeting when the discussion turns to sending Georgie to an institution because some fear he will become destructive as he gets older and “perhaps burn down the house,” according to headstrong and demanding Grandma Lausch (Marilyn Dodds Frank), who lives in the home and acts as the family’s matriarch, but she is not a relative.
Not surprisingly, as time passes, naturally the search for love comes into the picture, and Augie has more ups and down than a seesaw on a playground with energetic children. After some failed connections, his devious brother Simon (Luigi Sottile) has schemed his way into the heart of a woman from a well-to-do family and he orchestrates a hook-up for his brother with the sister (Abby Pierce) of his fiancée. But a conflicted Augie can’t say no to the persistence of Thea (a second role by Chaon Cross), who couldn’t get him out of her mind after meeting him much earlier––and basically has stalked him even though he was more interested initially in her sister. The two begin a relationship that Augie eventually fully embraces, especially during a trip to Mexico, where the twosome humorously try to train an eagle to hunt and capture iguanas to sell to collectors.
Comedy is used sparingly but effectively in the production and serves as another indication of the strength of the ensemble cast, which is rounded out by Aurora Real de Asua, Sebastian Arboleda, Kai Ealy, Neil Friedman, Stef Tovar and Brittneylove Smith, who brings a combination of comedy and drama in the role of Dingbat, a powerhouse thug associate of Mr. Einhorn and a boxing trainer on the side.
While much of the story’s appeal is associated with the performances of cast members––who frequently give Augie unsolicited information about shaping his life––it’s director Charles Newell, a four-time Jeff Award-winner, who seamlessly pulls this sometimes erratic play together and keeps it on track. This ambitious, three-act play (with two intermissions) demanded Newell’s laser-like focus to get the most out of a 600-page-plus narrative that follows Augie’s growth for about 25 years in the early 1900s.
The Adventures of Augie March does a 360-degree turn, ending where it began, with Augie, a member of the merchant marine, climbing into the lifeboat to survive a German submarine attack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Situated firmly within those boundaries is the curious life of a young man who deals with a series of turbulent events in his own way–-but with a lot of direction.
For more information and tickets, go to www.courttheatre.org.
Abby Pierce (left) and Patrick Mulvey join the accomplished cast in a scene from the three-act play The Adventures of Augie March at Court Theatre.
FROM the early moments when Augie March crawls into a lifeboat in a struggle to save himself from drowning, a number of dramatic occurrences develop that remain true to the title of the Saul Bellow lengthy novel The Adventures of Augie March, which was turned into a play by Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright David Auburn.
It is a coming-of-age story that follows Augie (Patrick Mulvey) from a youthful 17-year-old to a young adult who proves to be confused, but confident and yet resourceful as he grows up and away from home. In the world premiere at Court Theatre through June 23, Augie takes some questionable steps to achieve his goal of independence, beginning with his close connection to wheelchair-bound swindler Mr. Einhorn (John Judd), who is one of Augie’s first sources of employment. Perhaps it’s the Chicago-born youngster’s association with his slick mentor that prompted him to burglarize a luggage store and later steal textbooks to sell as part of his “book business.”
Patrick Mulvey appeals to John Judd, who's accompanied by (left) Aurora Real de Asua and Brittneylove Smith. Below, Mulvey is joined by Chaon Cross in the role of Thea.
Photographs by Michael Brosilow