×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Invisible Man

Complex and stylistically daring, Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel "Invisible Man" remains among the most respected American artistic achievements of the 20th Century, and this production at the Court Theater in Chicago represents the work's first stage adaptation.

With:
Invisible Man - Teagle F. Bougere

Complex and stylistically daring, Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “Invisible Man” remains among the most respected American artistic achievements of the 20th Century, and this production at the Court Theater in Chicago represents the work’s first stage adaptation. Reverently faithful to the novel in both narrated prose and plot, the adaptation captures the book’s relentless intelligence and sophisticated view of race and identity. But writer Oren Jacoby and director Christopher McElroen still have an way to go in exploring how to theatricalize the work as opposed to staging it.

There is plenty here that works. As the unnamed, first-person narrator who learns to embrace his self-described “invisibility,” actor Teagle F. Bougere possesses an easy eloquence (that, given the torrent of words, can’t be easy) and charisma, with a smile that can portray joy, optimism, puzzlement and anger discretely or simultaneously.

There are several visual flourishes that stick in the mind, some signaled very directly from the novel — for example, the myriad light bulbs overhanging the narrator’s secret retreat in the basement of a building reserved for white tenants. There are also expressionistic touches such as a sequence of moving doorways as he searches for work in New York or a hospital scene in which McElroen positions the protagonist leaning forward at the end of a rope as he deliriously listens to the objectifying dialogue of the white doctor and nurse.

But there are also sequences that don’t successfully visualize events from the narrator’s perspective. The very early scene in which the narrator, invited to accept a scholarship, is forced into a boxing ring with others and blindfolded becomes a literally choreographed sequence of slow-motion realism. As staged here, the scene comes across as a disturbing sample of the inhumane, but it loses the sense of palpable fear that comes from the narrator’s blindness in the situation.

Ellison infused African-American forms such as jazz into the very form of the novel. To translate his artistic innovation into a completely different medium seems a nearly inconceivable challenge, which is likely why Ellison refused adaptation requests to adapt it while he or his wife were still alive.

So this first staging should be considered an early part of a longer in-process experiment. It’s easy to admire its efforts and ideas: The terrific ensemble performances that capture Ellison’s unblinking view of self-interested people, both white and black; the intriguing but elusive use of characters who peak around corners to watch the “invisible man” in his lair; the use of projected images to get inside the narrator’s state of mind.

But in its current form the piece struggles to trace the narrator’s moments of revelation, and it becomes plodding once the narrator gets involved with the Communist-like “Brotherhood.” Above all, the show never manages to arrive at a guiding theatrical metaphor for the character’s conceptual invisibility.

Invisible Man

Court Theater, Chicago; 251 seats; $60

Production: A Court Theater presentation of a play in three acts based on the novel by Ralph Ellison, adapted for the stage by Oren Jacoby. Directed by Christopher McElroen.

Creative: Set, Troy Hourie; costumes, Jacqueline Firkins; lighting, John Culbert; sound, Josh Horvath; projections, Alex Koch; choreography, Tammy Mader; fight choreography, Sarah Fornace; production stage manager, Sara Gammage; stage manager, Jonathan Nook. Opened, reviewed Jan. 21, 2012. Runs through Feb. 19. Running time: 3 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast: Invisible Man - Teagle F. BougereWith: Lance Stuart Baker, Kimm Beavers, Tracey N. Bonner, Chris Boykin, Kenn E. Head, Bill McGough, Paul Oakley Stovall, A.C. Smith, Julia Watt.

More Legit

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content