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The Compass – Downloadable Morality Drama

The Compass – Downloadable Morality Drama

The Compass

In today’s hustle and bustle, ever accelerating world of digital express lanes, TSA pre-checks, snap chat, and such, wouldn’t it be nice to “swipe right” to find a little peace of mind? Be careful what you wish for. Steppenwolf for Young Adults engages just this concept in their original, highly enjoyable and engaging new work, The Compass, now playing on their main stage. Beginning as a conversation about the impact of technology on decision-making, this complicated intersection leads to a game of high stakes cat and mouse. The stakes, the future of the young lead of the show. Yes, that is correct, the audience becomes the jury, figuratively and literally. The Compass is a new downloadable app, marketed as a tool to help relieve stress and make life easier. Who wouldn’t like that? But is it prudent to surrender all your personal power to a bit of technology with claims is knows you better than you know yourself? Your moral compass is that essential inner sense which distinguishes what is right from what is wrong. Where does that needle point if you rely exclusively on technology, specifically, the app called Compass, to judge for you with responses to which you act accordingly? Devised and directed by Michael Rohd, The Compass continues Steppenwolf’s rich and lush legacy of complex characterizations and compelling story telling.

The Compass

Facing the dilemma central to this story is our young heroine, Marjan (Ariana Burks, in her Steppenwolf debut ) a bright and capable, overachieving student, who has written a critical essay about the ease of obtaining guns and deficient school safety. Hoping to provoke a dialog between the teachers and parents, Marjan’s plan sadly backfires and she gets expelled for publishing a how to guide on the ease of bringing a gun to school, then calling in a bomb threat to thwart a planned student protest, on her behalf, that could end in actual student violence. Told in flashback vignettes, the audience is spoon fed strategic slivers of the backstory. We are at the launch party for the exciting new app Compass. We meet the enthusiastic Compass Designer, Ada (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) and her equally charismatic business partner, the Entrepreneur played by Steppenwolf Ensemble member Tim Hopper. We learn of their business plan to strategically marketing this app to susceptible teens. We are introduced to Chaz (Jonathan Nieves) Marjan’s best friend and the spearhead of the aforementioned student protest. Lastly, we meet the two attorneys, the Prosecutor (a powerful Cheryl Lynn Bruce) who places blame squarely on the teen and her actions and Defense Attorney (Sean Parris) who credits the undue influence and addiction of social media as the main culprit. When someone else, or something else tells you what to do, where does the responsibility lay? Is technology a friend or foe, or in this case, criminally negligent?

The Compass

Most unique to this particular production, the audience is the jury of this interactive courtroom drama, not just innocuous bystanders. The staged action is repeatedly paused so the onlookers can discuss what they have just ingested with a facilitator from the cast. Those discussions then influence the action and have immediate impact on the dialog on stage. This is an ever evolving, organic story construct, that changes from night to night. Conversations about the influence of technology on day to day activities, and the suggested influence and impact are at the core of this challenging new piece. The writers spoke with actual teachers, web designers, trauma counselors, & psychologists when crafting the story. Who wouldn’t be tempted to utilize something, in this case an app, to make easier the struggle of making decisions, that daunting and insurmountable task which eventually shapes who we become as individuals. Before scolding me for my temptation to defend the app, remember, we no longer churn our own butter anymore. As a society, it is much more efficient to go to the grocery store or a restaurant instead of growing our own food. We watch our favorite movies and television programs from a phone when we have the time, not when it actually airs live. Who uses an Atlas anymore when traveling when our car guides us effortlessly to our destinations? Technology has certainly made our lives easier, of that there is no doubt. But can it be, should it be, a substitute for our moral compass?

The Compass

The trial determining the fate of this young woman who used an app to make a life-altering decision is currently playing out nightly on the main stage of the Steppenwolf Theatre. A crossroads between technology and decision-making may seem like a black and white, clear cut, issue on paper, but the lines grow ever hazier here as the backstory unfolds. Adding to the milieu, a classroom style scenic design from Courtney O’Neill, effective lighting design by JR Lederle, and powerful projection design crafted by Joseph A. Burke. Carolyn Rose Sullivan’s everyday street wear costume design aids with the audience being able to instantly relate to the characters as well.  Steppenwolf for Young Adults has crafted an excellent drama which is exceedingly entertaining for all ages. Would I download Compass if I had the chance? That remains to be seen. I am of a more suspicious nature, so I would question the fundamentality of something that claims to “know” me better then I know myself. What I do know, go see The Compass while you can. Many of the remaining shows are already sold out. I will end my review with one last question, What do I need to download to get Steppenwolf to consider a much deserved extension for this little gem? 

 Steppenwolf for Young Adults presents The Compass now playing through March 12, 2016

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Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

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