It’s not often one sees college students, professors, elected officials, a medical oncologist, and a detective fiction writer all in the same room, let alone onstage together–but that’s what the audience at the annual Revels play was treated to last Friday and Saturday evenings at the University of Chicago’s Quadrangle Club. “Revels 2010: A Touch of Nature” is part of a dramatic tradition that dates back to 1904, when UofC faculty and staff enacted a loose interpretation of a George Bernard Shaw play entitled “Mrs. Warren’s Professor.”
The satirical spirit lives on in this year’s production. Written by courtroom artist Andy Austin, it follows a band of Hyde Park-based gypsies as they try to restore the UofC’s recession-depleted endowment by way of some shrewd matchmaking between the daughter of a University fundraiser and the son of a wealthy North Side widow. Hijinks and laughter ensue when Hyde Parkers show up for a black-tie party at her Gold Coast mansion, where their Birkenstocks, recycled jewelry, and absent-minded professorialism stand in stark contrast to the North Siders’ posh attire and snobbery.
With one actor in a bear costume, another in drag, and a marriage-heavy Shakespearean ending, the Revels cast certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. “People keep joining, because it’s fun,” said co-producer Nancy Levner. “It’s one of the few opportunities for faculty, students, and community people to come together and say, as Judy Garland would, ‘Let’s put on a show.’” “It’s kind of like the ‘James Bond’ of Hyde Park,” added actor Lauren Miller. “Everybody who’s anybody turns up.”
Though the Revels has a long history, interest has fluctuated over the years. “When I moved here twelve years ago it was defunct,” said Mary Lee Behnke, a former UofC professor who led a revival in the early 2000s. “Now we’ve got an original script, original songs, and we’ve got talented people who want to perform in it.”