Choose your own ending: The new trend in Chicago theater?

January 31, 2011

Once, after a dose of a mind-altering drug, I spent hours passing the white silk of a hammock over my palm again and again, trying to ascertain whether the array of colors appearing in the interstices were real or an hallucination.  I was never able to resolve the question to my satisfaction but contemplating it kept me too busy to enjoy any genuine hallucinations that might have arisen.  There is an irony here somewhere but I’m not drunk enough to figure out what it is.

This inability to resolve something came to mind after seeing two shows in the past week which ended with a woman onstage poised between two equally likely courses of action.  The blackouts at the end of Hallie Gordon’s excellent Eclipsed at Northlight and Jessica Thebus’s likewise excellent though incomparably different Sex With Strangers at Steppenwolf leave the audience to decide what happens next.  So what I want to know is: is this a pattern, or am I just hallucinating?

Are we at a time (in history, in our lives) where sad endings are just unbearable but happy
endings seem too pat?  Or has the Internet simply made us people who expect to participate in everything, including what fictional characters are going to do next?  Is irresolution an abdication of the writer’s or director’s responsibility, or just an acknowledgment that everything is more or less permanently up in the air?

If you figure it out, please let me know.  I’ll be in the hammock.

Photo above: Actors from the Northlight production of Eclipsed. Photo by Michael Brosilow