Last night, while on my merry way to New Leaf Theatre‘s critically acclaimed production of The Man Who Was Thursday, I was forced into an impromptu jog for about half a mile in my fraught attempt to make it to the concealed Lincoln Park Cultural Center in time. (Seriously — I asked four different people after Google Maps led me astray, and not a single person knew where the building was — or that it even existed. Luck was on my side when I happened upon the unmarked building.)
It seems fitting, though, that I should have a difficult time locating the venue for a show that takes us into the underground lair of the top-secret Supreme Anarchist Council.
The Man Who Was Thursday follows Gabriel Syme (the crisp, compact Dan Granata), a poet who is recruited to a secret anti-anarchist taskforce at Scotland Yard. In his quest, he wins the trust of newbie anarchist Lucian Gregory (Mike Mikula — giving a passionate performance yet with a distracting northern London accent that seems have come by way of Jamaica). With cunning and clever wordplay, Syme infiltrates the Supreme Anarchist Council in his key task to take down “Sunday” — the leader of the Council (played with detached, gleeful abandon by Sean Patrick Fawcett). Syme soon learns, however, that the enemy isn’t always where you expect to find it.
Bilal Dardai has inventively adapted G. K. Chesterton’s darkly satirical novel into a an evening steeped in intrigue and contradictions. And director Jessica Hutchinson’s neck-twisting and head-scratching staging keeps you figuratively (and, at times, literally) on your toes. (That said, the expository-heavy first scene could use some tightening.)
The Man Who Was Thursday thrives on paradox. Flipping something inside out and looking at it in a new way reveals a truth that might not be seen if you were to merely approach it as trained, per logic.
Why am I defining paradox for you? Because I can, and I feel it’s important. Also: I feel New Leaf’s production maintains dramatic tension through paradox quite well. (What the hell does that even mean? I’m not sure. It’s Friday.) But I *am* sure this show is fantastic, funny, and, ultimately, quite sobering.
The show’s sold out for the rest of the run, and it’s not hard to understand why.
Side note: They filmed last night’s performance for “documentation purposes” and I happened be in the background during the major scenes, which made me all sorts of uncomfortable. And, to top it all off, my fly was open the entire time. So, added bonus for the New Leaf archival footage!