Accidental Critic Meets Accidental Curator

Photo courtesy Karen Craven

Actress Molly Regan walked on stage carrying an object that looked a bit like a small, sterling silver coffee pot and declared, “I know what this is. But it took me 50 years to ask.”

Thus began a 90-minute tale of exploration and discovery that Regan says began while looking through family photographs, when one of her brothers asked innocently where a single photo had been taken. The question launched Regan on a quest to track down her family’s stories and write them down for the next generation.

Thus was born “The Accidental Curator,” a one-woman show that Regan performed this weekend at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, where she is an ensemble member. I went because I have a basement full of family photo albums and other mementos, and a friend whose mother recently gifted her a box of family memorabilia and volun-told her that she had become “the keeper of our family history.”

More a lengthy story-telling performance than a play, “The Accidental Curator” took the audience on an intimate journey through generations of Regan’s family history, starting gently and casually, then quietly drawing in the audience, building tension almost imperceptibly to a point at which I realized I was sitting on the edge of my seat yearning to hear more.

I did not know that I was this interested in the family history of a complete stranger.

What makes The Accidental Curator work is a combination of fascinating subject matter — a sky-diving septuagenarian father, insanity buried deep in the family’s past, a riveting tale of murder — and Regan’s friendly tone and easy manner. Unearthing family secrets ranging from the sweet to the scandalous, she explores the importance of personal history and what it means to take on responsibility for a family’s record-keeping. It isn’t always easy to discover and expose skeletons. Nor to see your home fill up with the ephemera and detritus that is your family’s “stuff” — for, as Regan tells the audience, “When you know the stories of the stuff, it’s not stuff anymore.”

I don’t know if Regan and director Mary B. Robinson will take this performance elsewhere. Regan performed just three shows at Steppenwolf, over the course of a single weekend. But while Regan’s stories are intensely personal, the story she tells through them is universal. It would appeal to audiences anywhere.

Steppenwolf Theatre

The Accidental Curator at Steppenwolf Theatre

Karen Craven: Keeper of her family’s history 

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at

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