“WHEN HARRY MET IRVING” is a celebration of the music of Harold Arlen and Irving…
Harry and the Thief a Zany Retelling of History
Reviewed by: Melody Udell
Harry and the Thief, the coolly unpolished show now playing at The Den Theatre, is a historical jaunt through time without (thankfully) going all Doctor Who on us. Receiving its world premiere by the Pavement Group, the premise of the show is just crazy enough to inspire a little intrigue: travel back in time to arm Harriet Tubman and ensure a black uprising during the Civil War. But with its intentionally rough edges and hodgepodge of characters, it’s the plot that truly suffers.
Lucy Sandy plays our modern-day anti-heroine, Mimi, a criminal trying to get out of the business. But Jeremy (Osiris Khepera), her mad-scientist cousin, has other plans. He’s created a time-travel machine, and despite his multiple Harvard degrees, thinks it’s a good idea to send Mimi back in time to provide arms to Harriet Tubman during the Civil War. Altering this part of history, he reasons, will result in slaves rising up against their captors—and society at large—so that years later, Jeremy can become the emperor of all. Got it? Neither did I.
Before Mimi knows it, she’s mysteriously rocketed back in time, but because these things do happen, Jeremy’s calculations were off and Mimi landed in a forest a few years before war actually breaks out. Instead, she finds herself helping Harriet (the standout Marjie Southerland) ferry slaves to the North. Hot on her tail is the slave overseer, played by Keith Neagle, whose hilarious pining for his former slave girlfriend provide some of the funniest moments in the show. But the action quickly becomes disjointed thanks to various cinema-style scenes and unclear character developments. And sadly, the drag queen narrator (Bryan Bosque) just doesn’t seem necessary in the show.
Scenic designer Megan Truscott’s silhouette-inspired forest, while visually impressive, seemed fit for another play—it gave off a chilly Halloween vibe rather than transporting us to the Civil War-era South. And mixed with a show that lacked cohesion and failed to deliver on its initially compelling plot idea, Harry and the Thief needs a bit of reworking to successfully pull off the perfectly imperfect, hipster historical bit of theater its aiming to be.
Harry and the Thief runs through Sunday, Nov. 10 at The Den Theatre (1333 N. Milwaukee) on Thursdays through Saturdays and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.Tickets are $15-$25 and are available online or by phone at 773-598-9279. For calendar information, please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com