A review by Bob Chiarito.
Last winter was brutal enough to break any Chicagoan with the means to escape, and Tony Fitzpatrick is no exception. In his latest show — more of a collage than a play — “The Midnight City” — the 55-year-old artist, poet, actor, (you-name-it he’s probably done it) — announces that he’s leaving the city for New Orleans because he wants to “be warm and draw birds.”
“The Midnight City” is the fourth and final installment in a series that began with “This Train,” and also includes “Stations Lost” and Nickel History: The Nation of Heat” — all of which were inspired by Chicago.
Staged at the Steppenwolf Garage theater with his friend, Wrigley Field usher, business manager and artist Stan Klein — the show is largely a love letter to Chicago. Whether or not it’s a farewell letter is still to be determined — Fitzpatrick still has not left and as of this writing said he has not found the right house yet.
Directed by Ann Filmer, Klein and Fitzpatrick take turns giving monologues and communicating with each other, dominating a stage that also features a video backdrop by Kristin Reeves, John Rice’s guitar and the beautiful voice of Anna Fermin, all of which add to the show. At times the show is laugh-out-loud funny, but also thought provoking and sentimental.
Fitzpatrick complains about gentrification, the closing of Hot Doug’s, violence in Chicago, the fact that the only reporter that’s alive and worthy of being mentioned is Rick Kogan, yet he doesn’t come off as bitter. Perhaps it’s because Klein keeps him in check, making note that New Orleans is not without its problems and that one should focus on the here and now while also complaining about the modernization, or what I’ll call mall-ification, of Wrigley Field.
While the show seemingly focuses on Chicago and makes many mentions of New Orleans, Fitzpatrick’s soon-to-be home, some in the audience may see his story about Lou Reed as somewhat of an unrelated tangent. However, for Fitzpatrick, Lou Reed was a friend and one of his major influences. Reed’s album “Walk on the Wild Side” began as a musical set to Nelsen Algren’s novel “A Walk on the Wild Side” which was a novel based in New Orleans. Like Reed, Algren has long been cited by Fitzpatrick as a major influence and thus, the inclusion of the Reed story ends up being a way of coming of full-circle and it works beautifully.
In the end, one isn’t sure if Fitzpatrick will actually leave Chicago and departs the theater hoping that if he does, it’s only for the winter, like so many of the birds that he paints.
A Q&A with Tony Fitzpatrick
Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.
CA) You’re a man of many hats. If I happened to be a stranger sitting next to you on a train and struck up a conversation and asked what you do for a living, what’s the first thing you say?
FITZPATRICK) I’m an artist.
CA) A lot has been written about your proposed move to New Orleans. It seems that you’re one of the few people who embody Chicago and a lot of people don’t want to see you go. What’s your current plan?
FITZPATRICK) I haven’t found a home so I’m not going anywhere right now.
CA) Ready for another brutal winter as predicted?
FITZPATRICK) Um, no. I will make sure whether I move or not that I’m somewhere warm while it’s cold.
CA) The Midnight City is described as the fourth and final installment in a series that began with This Train.(Nickel History: A Nation of Heat & Stations Lost) Is it indeed a final installment?
FITZPATRICK) Well, that’s what we said about Nickel History so, I guess we’ll see. I think so, I think Stan had a lot of stuff and is probably ready to move on. I think so, that’s the plan so far but that’s what we said last time.
CA) Needless to say, it’s a show on it’s own. One doesn’t need to have seen the previous shows to get the most out of The Midnight City, correct?
FITZPATRICK) Yeah. Really, you can see any one of these shows by themselves. They all stand alone really, really well.
CA) The Midnight City is mostly focused on Chicago and Chicago things with some New Orleans as well. However, there is stories about Lou Reed, one of your good friends and influences. Perhaps some who aren’t aware may think the Reed stuff is out of place — to me, It’s interesting to me that Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side began as a musical set to Nelsen Algren’s novel “A Walk on the Wild Side” which was a novel based in New Orleans — Nelson Algren is another big influence for you — is this your way of coming full circle with these subjects that have influenced you throughout your life?
FITZPATRICK) Lou is a part of my life. Lou was my friend. Maybe one guy thinks that [tangent]. (Walk on the Wild Side) was originally written to go with what was going to be a Broadway musical on Algren’s book. Lou was a great admirer of Nelson Algren and also a big fan of Chicago, he loved the city and every time I was in his company he would discuss Chicago with me. He really loved Chicago.
CA)You’ve cited Algren as a big influence for you also, correct?
FITZPATRICK) Very much so.
CA) It seemed to me that because the book was based in New Orleans, having the Reed stuff in the show was a way to come full circle –
FITZPATRICK) Yeah. He [Algren] is thought of as kind of the author and poet laureate of Chicago, unofficially. But he also wrote books that were set in Texas and in the northeast and in New Jersey. His work was not strictly confined to Chicago. We [Chicagoans] take a very proprietary interest in Nelson Algren, as well we should. He’s one of ours.
CA) You have a photo exhibit coming up in late November at Firecat of Art Shay’s photographs entitled Nelson Algren’s Eternal Chicago–
FITZPATRICK) Yes, opening at the end of November and I’m very excited about it.
CA) Can you describe your friend and business manager Stan Klein — what does he bring to you artistically?
FITZPATRICK) We’re kind of in some ways polar opposites and in some ways we’re the same guy. Stanley and I have been friends for almost 30 years. We became friends the way people do, you run into people at work and it happens very organically. When he came to work with me at the end of 2009, we realized between the two of us we had some amazing stories to tell and decided to indulge that.
CA) You’ve said this about New Orleans: “It is the city I love. Sadly, it is not my city. New Orleans seduces, entreats and rewards oddballs; it is a city that knows how to love you back. Loving New Orleans is a bit like loving the girl you’re never going to get, but it doesn’t keep you from trying. What would you say about Chicago?
FITZPATRICK) The same thing Nelson Algren said about it – ‘Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.’ I don’t think anybody’s ever said it better than that. This is a great, American city. I think there are three of them. I think it’s New York, New Orleans and Chicago. I think there are no other cities that are really as American as those cities.
CA) Regarding your work, how would you say it’s evolved over the years?
FITZPATRICK) I think organically. I find what I can’t draw I can usually write and what I can’t write I can usually draw and sometimes when the fates are smiling on me I can do both.
CA) How far ahead to you generally look?
FITZPATRICK) I’m working on a collection of my New City columns called Dime Stories coming out in June of 2015 coming out in a book from Curbside Splendor and not long after that a collection of drawings and essays called The Secret Birds will also be published by Curbside.
CA) Last question, what’s your opinion of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”?
FITZPATRICK) Paranoid, delusional horror movie that has very little to do with the history of birds or actual bird behavior.
CA) Do you think it’s a good movie?
FITZPATRICK) Umm, no. No, you can tell the parts where TippI Hedren is ducking down and the birds are coming at her — those birds are actually not flying. They are stuffed birds that are being thrown at her and it’s actually kind of silly looking.