Chicago Theatre Review
Ironmistress at Oracle: sensitive, smart, tough as nails.
By Devlyn Camp
In a time when the phrase “public access” usually triggers thoughts of basic local television programming or free, below mediocre anything, it should be known – if you haven’t heard already – that Oracle Production’s “Public Access Theater” evokes a much different connotation. Their means free seats – and here’s the part where the critic comes in – to great theater.
Opening this weekend, Ironmistress presents a dreamlike relationship between nineteenth century mother Martha (Katherine Keberlein) and daughter Little Cog (Sarah Goeden) who inherit the husband’s iron factory. As Martha tries her hand at preparing her daughter for impending adulthood, she becomes wrapped up in the series of stories Little Cog recalls from their past.
In the days prior to public broadcastings, when parent and child would sit in their home telling stories, Little Cog recites tales in unison with her mother, enjoying them as the first time she heard them. Goeden is playful and childlike, diving headfirst into her stories’ worlds. Reluctant to relive the past, Martha stands stoic, until she is pulled in by her daughter’s charm. Keberlein is quick-witted and commanding. Her proud jawline and sovereign ruling over the stage from inside her leather bound skin are simultaneously startling and magnetic.
Surrounding and emphasizing the bold women are skillfully simple and smart lighting designs among the tense, mechanic sounds of an iron foundry. The spooked setting and scenic design leave the practically onstage audience wrapped inside the same dream with the disarrayed family.
Playwright April De Angelis’s dark-humored and sharp drama twists around the mother-daughter storytelling that reveals Victorian England’s commonplace expectations of women. Martha seeks to train her daughter for proper behavior, Cog seeks to imagine, play and grow on her own accord. In a 75-minute one-act, there is no easy way to take sides of two wonderfully acted characters who both strive for well-being. Martha, who follows the philosophy of making one’s self iron over emotions, only wants to tie down the freethinking Cog for protection from her thoughts for building, evolving, and flying away.
Sometimes it seems intelligent black box theatre is sparse. A show is too heavy handed and dark, a show contrives too many jokes, a show just isn’t pieced together properly. Ironmistress is none of the above, and is wholly beautiful and smart with the right dash of dark humor.
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