Take the Ride: Tony Fitzpatrick’s This Train at Steppenwolf

July 19th, 2010

I saw Tony Fitzpatrick’s This Train Friday night at the Steppenwolf ‘s Garage Theatre. Very much like his collages and drawings, Fitzpatrick layers and arranges stories to weave together a sense of our American and Chicago histories.  Stories about The Hobo Alphabet, Nelson AlgrenStuds Terkel, the vagrants riding trains across our county after the depression, and the vagrants of today form a patchwork textile that is grounding if only for the simple reason that connecting to our history, even the blood-stained, stolen land parts of our history, gives us roots, a sense of belonging and a sense of self.

This is history à la Tony, of course, but his resurrection of the lost art of storytelling provides a rich, dreamy, funny ride down memory lane as experienced through the eyes of Tony and Stan at the Big Cat Press on Damen Avenue.   Intricate video by Kristin Reeves and earthy, folk music by John Rice and Kate Eggleston only further add to the dimensionality and plushness of our experience.

I loved the seemingly (although not) random conversational flow of This Train and how a string of independent stories create a whole.  This is indeed how our brains process memories: our personal histories in patches of emotions surface and then drown only to boil over again.  This is what I feel when I see Fitzpatick’s collages and such is the experience of This Train; a boiling up and over and down again of emotional moments in Tony’s history, a truly Chicagoan history to which we can all relate to some extent in this city of tribes.

Directed by Ann filmer and told in the intimate setting that is the Garage Theatre, almost as if the stories were between bar buddies, Fitzpatrick surprisingly does a bunch of voice imitations and clearly enjoys his own stories.   Not a small man, his stage presence is formidable and the humor distinctly Tony.  Playing only briefly through the end of this month, hop on “This Train” by Tony Fitzpatrick or you’’ll be sorry you missed the ride.

– Elysabeth Alfano

Side Note: in “This Train” Fitzpatrick makes reference to his dog being handsome and this is only because he has not met my dog.

Elysabeth Alfano is the creator, executive producer, co-producer and host of Fear No ART Chicago on WTTW.  She is also the creator, executive producer, writer and host of Art Scene on www.fearnoartchicago.com

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