Theater Review: City Lit’s Fascinating ‘The Innocence of Seduction’ Now Thru Oct. 8, 2023


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CHICAGO – Society, or at least certain elements of society, are always looking for scapegoats to hide the sins of themselves and authority. In the so-called “great America” of the 1950s, the scapegoat target was comic books … specifically through a sociological study called “The Seduction of the Innocent.” City Lit Theater Company, in part two of a trilogy on comic culture by Mark Pracht, presents “The Innocence of Seduction … now through October 8th, 2023. For details and tickets, click COMIC BOOK.

HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.0/5.0
Play Rating: 4.0/5.0

The stage play is sharp and funny, especially in its use of a character represented by the author of “The Seduction of the Innocent,” German psychiatrist Frederic Wertham. As portrayed by Frank Nall, he becomes an increasingly strange Greek Chorus to the proceedings, providing a much needed comic relief to a somewhat serious story of American censorship, cancelling and fear during the government hunt for anything they deemed subversive.

SofInno
The Innocence of Seduction
Photo credit: CityLit.org

“The Innocence of Seduction” tells the story of the evolution from the Golden Age of Comic Books, which began with Superman and Batman during the 1930s, joined by future Marvel stars Captain America and Sub Mariner in the 1940s. The industry started to produce edgier horror comics in the 1950s, led by “EC” comics publisher William Gaines (Sean Harklerode). After Wertham’s book in published, in reaction to rise in juvenile crime in post WW2 America, it causes a panic among parents that leads all the way to Senate hearings. While Gaines fights against it, the industry capitulates in establishing the “Comics Code Authority.”

There is a large and ardent ensemble cast to deliver this combination of fact, fiction and social commentary, aided by an effective digital show and tell on the screen behind the efficient set. Most interesting are the offices of EC comics, once ruled by Max (Ron Quade as a ghost), the father of William Gaines, and now floundering for a life line after their best selling comics are cut off by government intervention. The 1950s were an ultimate patriarchy, in which white men made all the decisions, and the stage play symbolically … and less effectively … shoehorns in the comic industry’s attempt to include women, African Americans and closeted gay men.

SofInno2
Frank Nall as Frederic Wertham in ‘The Innocence of Seduction’
Photo credit: Steve Graue for City Lit

But as an old comic book geek I admired the attention to detail in this somewhat forgotten corner of societal and entertainment history. Just like superheroes have an origin story, the attempt of power to dictate what we read and who we are also has origins and that is righteously delivered from the pen and direction of Mark Pracht, along with the talent of the City Lit Theater Company. Next in 2024 with the “Four-Color Trilogy,” 1960s Marvel Comics will get their due in “The House of Ideas.”

City Lit Theater presents “The Innocence of Seduction” at the City Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, at various days and times through October 8th, 2023. For general company information, click CITY LIT. For a cast list, click here. Written and directed by Mark Pracht.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Editor and Film Critic/Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2023 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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