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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Soulstice Theatre's Passionate 'American Enterprise'

Theater Review

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The drama of a historic nationwide labor strike comes to the stage with impressive passion in Soulstice Theatre's production of American Enterprise. David Ferrie cuts a severe figure as late-19th-century Chicago industrialist George Pullman. An ensemble cast featuring nearly a dozen actors fluidly renders playwright Jeffrey Sweet's tale of the rise and fall of a man who made his fortune manufacturing luxury passenger rail cars.

The play starts with Pullman's rise from rags to riches, but the dream of self-made fortune collapses into a nightmare as the drama reaches intermission. Pullman originally was known for trying to elevate the lives of his workers, who lived in a town named after him, but later was viewed as a capitalist dictator unwilling to compromise. Ferrie is admirable in the role, avoiding the temptation to turn the character from stalwart business hero to snickering villain. Ferrie infuses his enormous stage presence with steely determination—there are many moments in which his presence is felt even when he doesn't say a word.

The ensemble occasionally flashed unnatural emotion, but overall the acting was well balanced. Director Char Manny does a nice job of getting the group to work together in a well-paced historical tale that has disturbing thematic echoes in the current difficulties facing state workers in Wisconsin.

Soulstice Theatre stages its final show at the Marian Center for Nonprofits (before moving to a new home) with its production of American Enterprise, which runs through May 14. To reserve tickets, call 414-431-3187.
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