Bartlett native rises to the challenge of 'Vortex'
If you threw "The Great Gatsby," "Hamlet" and the grittiness of "Pulp Fiction" into a blender and mixed them into one theatrical production, you'd get "The Vortex."
The classic Noël Coward play about members of the upper class in the Roaring '20s dabbling in drugs and sexuality is being resurrected for the inaugural production of the Dead Writers Theater Collective at the Greenhouse Theater Complex in Chicago.
Showtimes: Preview performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, July 12-14; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19. Opening night is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 20; showtimes 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, July 20 to Aug 26.
Tickets: $15 for previews, $30 for scheduled run
At the heart of "The Vortex," directed by Jim Schneider, is the character Nicky Lancaster, played by Kaelan Strouse, a native of Bartlett. Lancaster is an inspiring concert pianist returning home from Paris, France. It isn't such a warm welcome when he sees that his mother is a sexual deviant trying desperately to retain her youth, preying on his friends and other young men.
Strouse has been in the acting business in the Chicago area since graduating from Northwestern University in 2009. Between gigs at Second City, Pegasus Players and filming two feature films — "Hogtown" and "In Between Engagements" — there's been a lot of work and variety for the young actor.
The role of Nicky in "The Vortex" was not something Strouse just auditioned for and jumped into. After an initial reading of the play, there was an additional year of preparation that was needed to learn every facet of the character, including how to play the piano. Where he has had more experience playing light and funny roles, the part of Lancaster has presented a challenge for Strouse.
"It was a lot of work and there are a lot of dark themes in this play. I'm not as comfortable playing those types of roles," Strouse said. "Nicky has a lot of nice moments, but he's hurting a lot on the inside."
Strouse said the characters in "The Vortex," which opens Thursday, July 12, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 26, are representative of today.
"There's a need to go faster and break the rules, especially when it comes to society's romantic rules," Strouse says.
For example, when he returns home, Nicky brings with him a new fiancee, but their relationship begins to turn sour because of their drug use and her infidelity.
"Nicky through this is trying to stay grounded and stay sane while his world around him seems to be crashing down," Strouse said.
The quality of the production was something Strouse said really impressed him.
"The quality to this production is absurd," Strouse explained. "The props, the costumes, the set are all modeled from real pieces from that 1920s era — it's something that I haven't seen any company put so much effort into. It's going to be special."
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