The Hypocrites’ Mikado: A Masterpiece Restored

mikado-2013When Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado opened in New York in 1886 Harper’s Magazine called it “pure rollicking fun. It is capital nonsense.”

Since that time few productions of the great operetta have been worthy of those words. Time had accumulated layers of dust on the great and wild operetta.  Now a band of wise, skilled, and daring players in Chicago, calling themselves The Hypocrites have taken the work by the ears and shaken the play free and thrown it onto its ear in Steppenwolf’s Garage theater.

Using the medieval playing conventions of mansion and platea, the audience is free (even encouraged) to wander around the circus-like environment, following the zany plot twists and turns, leaps and bounds, reversals and discoveries. Balloons, carnival sideshow attractions, a cash bar and a company of quadruple threat (acting, dancing, singing, and playing musical klezmeresque instruments) polished clowns make this undoubtedly the best production of The Mikado anyone could hope to encounter.

George Bernard Shaw, himself no slouch when it came to comedy, considered Gilbert and Sullivan the equals to the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen in historical importance. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who often approached life and art from the other side of the street from Shaw, said “it may be that in the remote future that laughter [from Gilbert and Sullivans’ plays] will still be heard, when all the voices of that age are silent.” The Hypocrites’ production, made to look easy only by the clear professionalism and extraordinary skill of the performers and creators, testify to these critics’ ancient appraisals.

Supposedly Gilbert got the idea for The Mikado when a huge Japanese sword suddenly dislodged itself from the wall of his study. The Hypocrites’ production suddenly and joyously dislodges Gilbert and Sullivan’s reputation from the dustbin of theater history and happily restores them to their rightful place of irreverent honor alongside the likes of Aristophanes, Moliere, Feydeau, the Marx Brothers, and Monty Python.

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