Freak show

Chicago Conspiracy Trial

A hysterical and dramatic production on an enormous scale that can’t be missed.

A hysterical and dramatic production on an enormous scale that can’t be missed.

Rated 5.0

Frank Condon’s spectacular production is not only the biggest show in town, but probably the best as well. The play recreates the trial of seven activists in the aftermath of the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention—with the audience as jury. The script, co-written by Condon, is drawn from actual testimony, and ranges from enormously funny political satire from the likes of Abbie Hoffman to bone-chilling scenes of a black defendant bound and gagged in court. Condon, as director, carefully choreographs an enormous cast through scene after scene, as tempers run high and the proceedings veer into absurdity and chaos again and again.

The show is vastly entertaining as an absorbing piece of courtroom drama. But it’s also a passionate defense of free speech and the rights of minorities, a powerful recreation of a dark moment in our nation’s history, and—oh yeah—sheer lunatic fun, as the more flamboyant radicals have a field day at the expense of over-eager police, repressive prosecutors and a gavel-banging, out-of-control semi-senile judge.

The cast of 40 local actors—bigger than many touring musicals—comes through again and again. Among many praiseworthy performances are Loren Taylor (as the fuming defense lawyer William Kunstler), Bill Voorhees (over the top as the irreverent Abbie Hoffman), Myron Davis (a pillar of righteous fury as Black Panther leader Bobby Seale), Bob Irvin (in tie-dye as poet Allen Ginsberg), and Ivan Sandoval (all gavel, grump and vinegar as Judge Hoffman). The protesters shouting slogans outside the theater are another nice touch.

Because of the manpower and mobilization needed to bring it off, this remarkable play is seldom staged—this is only the fourth production in 20-odd years. But it’s something special, and well worth going out of your way to see. Highly, highly recommended.