Prop Thtr is currently hosting an open-ended run of Hizzoner, a dramatization of the first Mayor Daley’s term as Chicago’s big boss. Told in flashback from the day Daley died, the play highlights episodes from Daley’s career, culminating in the turbulent events of 1968 and the Democratic convention, when police clashed violently with anti-war protesters in Chicago’s Grant Park.
The play is set primarily in Daley’s office, where da mayor sits behind his big desk while staff members, many of them up to their hips in graft, buzz around him. Neil Giuntoli (who also wrote the play) gives a commanding performance as Daley and by all accounts, he’s perfectly captured the look and sound of the quick-tempered late mayor. Press conferences given throughout the play reenact Daley’s unique tongue-twisted use of the English language–a trait carried on by his son Richard “Richie” M. Daley, the current mayor of Chicago.
While it’s unlikely the Daley family has rushed over to see Hizzoner, I suspect many in the audience would find Giuntoli’s take on Daley a shade sympathetic. The play does serve as an interesting history lesson, though as a stand-alone play, I doubt it would transfer well outside of Cook county. The politics are too inside and the drama stretched too thin across two acts to give it universal appeal. Photographs and newsreel footage projected on the walls behind the actors helped to give context to the action, but unfortunately they were out of focus much of the time.
Before I got to the theater, I thought the play was a one-man show. Having now seen it, I’d say Hizzoner would be a stronger piece as a one-act with the extraneous characters removed, giving the audience “one-on-one” time with the mayor. In any case, I would recommend it to anyone interested in Chicago history and the iconic figure of “Daley the First.”