Review: 'Eastland' at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre

June 17, 2012
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Based on a true and tragic story from Chicago history, Lookingglass Theatre’s “Eastland” l (running through July 29) launches in familiar fashion.

We get a troubadour-esque musical prelude, an introduction to the optimistic innocence of passengers out for a 1915 pleasure cruise on the Chicago River, and we have the hindsight opportunity to tsk tsk at the arrogance of its captain, who doesn’t have the nautical foresight to see how the added weight of more passengers will influence the ship’s ballast.

We meet some characters—sketches, really—brought to life by a solid Chicago cast. And it feels like we are in for a trip through a lower-budget, regional version of Broadway’s “Titanic” musical.

But Eastland soon reveals itself to be something very different: A musical with the skill to stir the soul and the guts to question whether or not we have one.

When the minimal scenery dramatically changes and the body count rises, we are plunged into matters far more unsettling than iceberg-dodging. And the talented folks at the Tony-Award-winning Lookingglass aren’t about to throw in cheap romance or sentiment to mitigate the reality of the disaster.

A hero? Yes, this show sort-of has one in a supporting role. But he exists in a real world where even jaw-dropping acts of courage and selflessness are quickly forgotten while showboating celebrities (here personified by Harry Houdini) are burned into the public consciousness. I don’t know about you, but I can’t name any of the heroic people who ran into the World Trade Centers.

If I’m making “Eastland” sound grim, well, the subject matter undeniably is. It also suffers from a book whose dialogue too often over articulates (Its characters are far more effective in their less verbose scenes). But that’s mitigated by stunning design—including haunting sound effects, sudden and dramatic lighting shifts, and rich costume design abetting a breathtaking set. (If you go, make sure to get tickets with a head-on view rather than the ones on the side of the stage.)


Clocking in at a tight-but-never-rushed 90-plus minutes, “Eastland”--theatrically thrilling, profoundly moving, and boldly presented--is just one more reminder that the best way for Hoosiers to see great, groundbreaking theater isn’t to fly to New York—it’s to hop a bus up to Chicago.

Your thoughts?


Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

  4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.