Nickel History: The Nation of Heat at Steppenwolf Garage | Theater review
Artist Tony Fitzpatrick recounts personal history in the final third of his storytelling trilogy.
When he was a child, Tony Fitzpatrick’s uncle would tell him, “If you can get a nickel smarter every day, you might eventually be worth a dollar.” That idea is at the center of the artist and poet’s new play, the final installment in a trilogy of autobiographical works combining music, visual art, poetry and traditional scene work. Joined by longtime friend and artistic collaborator Stan Klein, Fitzpatrick looks at the moments in the past when the two men gained a nickel of knowledge, framed by the experiences of their fathers in World War II.
From burning the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack at Disco Demolition in Comiskey Park to his time in Japan visiting the home of poet Matsuo Basho, Fitzpatrick’s stories of privilege and sacrifice reveal how he’s evolved as an artist and how his personal life has shaped that change. That sense of growth is beautifully captured in evocative videos by Kristin Reeves, showing areas of Chicago that were influential to Fitzpatrick, clips of the artist embossing and snapshots of his collage work.
Fitzpatrick and Klein aren’t trained actors and they occasionally flub lines, but the two are honest, captivating performers. While their fathers may be the focus, Nickel History is really a story of friends who’ve become brothers. The two men have great chemistry onstage, and both have a self-deprecating humor that keeps the tone light as the subject matter intensifies.