A man who can count is not necessarily an astrophysicist, and a man who can speak is not automatically a playwright. However, many erroneously assume that to understand language is to capably use it.
I know, I've sat through their shows, at first resentfully, then resignedly and finally compliantly, having forgotten how elevating a self-penned, persona piece can be. Well, Chicago treasure Tony Fitzpatrick, an artist, poet, actor and playwright set me straight. This Train, his breathtaking, two-hour rumination on progress, poverty, social stratification and hobo culture is unequivocally the most profound, life-affirming work of its kind to grace a Chicago stage.
A winding ode to vagrants, outlaws, Chicago and Tony's mentor, Studs Terkel, the show deftly blends music, poetry, visual art and storytelling. It creates a sense of communal history, an endeavor Terkel himself would applaud. Although This Train revolves around Tony's experiences, musings and curmudgeonly personality, the shrewd inclusion of sidekick Stan Klein offers Tony someone with which to interact, smashing solo show conventions. Haunting vocalist Kat Eggleston and skillful musician John Rice flesh out the piece, mixing songs such as Angel from Montgomery, with fragments of Tony's poetry set to music. As such, they provide an evocative counterpoint to the show's sprinkling of jokey anecdotes, and enhance the more somber moments as well. Another inspired addition, Buzz Kilman as Hobo Ghost, a character who functions to visually ground Tony's soaring tales.
In the end, it's language, poignant and precise, which fuels This Train, separating it from the glut of persona-based work cluttering the theatrical landscape. This Train leaves those other shows in the dust.