Chicago Theatre Review
Don’t Cross Mama
The Water’s Edge – Ashton Rep
When Richard pulls back the tarp revealing to his pretty, young companion Lucy an outdoor bathtub, his favorite part of the lake house his father built many years ago, the audience recognizes it’s significant for reasons yet to be revealed. Prolific playwright (“Mauritius”), novelist (Three Girls and Their Brother) and screenplay writer (“Harriet the Spy”) Theresa Rebeck has fashioned a modern retelling of the ancient Greek tragedy “Agamemnon” that’s both fascinating and horrifying, taking audiences on a tense journey of revenge. The classical work inspiring this play tells of the famous Trojan War hero who sacrificed his own daughter to appease the gods. Then, after several years abroad, Agamemnon returns home flaunting his new, young wife Cassandra and Clytemnestra (his first wife and mother of the slain daughter) eventually takes her revenge. As audiences witness Richard’s uncomfortable reunion unfold with his former wife Helen and their two children Erica and Nate, the storyline seems very familiar and we know that this is not going to end well.
Richard returns to his family house by “the water’s edge” after a 17-year absence. Not realizing that Helen drove him away, Richard’s two children believe he just walked out, never attempting to contact them again…until now. His estranged wife isn’t exactly pleased to see her husband again either, especially since he arrived with a nubile teenage girlfriend, not much older than his own children. Helen also blames Richard for the death of their other daughter 17 years ago. Then there’s Richard’s declaration that he’d like to return to his family and make a clean start. Richard’s self-proclaimed financial success (he’s generous with gifts and money and owns several homes around the world) and arrogance doesn’t endear him to either his spouse or his kids. Even his new girlfriend is beginning to doubt Richard’s sincerity. When an alfresco dinner by the lake is planned, Helen suggests to Lucy that she might like to explore the little nearby town instead and leave them to get reacquainted. It’s when Lucy departs that the plot begins to take its darkest turn.
Artistic Director Robert Tobin confidently guides his five-member ensemble through the growing suspense. He skillfully leads his actors along this roller coaster of apprehension and foreboding that begins from the first moment until events finally spin out of control. The tension might be better achieved, however, if his cast would keep a handle on their volume; too much yelling for so long wears thin in this intimate setting. However, Tobin’s cast, aside from the histrionics, is quite good. Amy Kasper sets the pace as Helen, an actress able to say more in the silences between her words. Ms. Kasper’s body language and sharp facial reactions add even more. Interestingly, Ray Kasper, Amy’s real-life husband (I assume) plays Richard with the appropriate hubris and cockiness this role demands. That Richard comes off as the antagonist in this play is destined, from the start; and Mr. Kasper wisely underplays the reprehensible. Mary-Kate Arnold makes a welcome debut as Lucy. She is both a victim while serving as the audience’s eyes and ears, stumbling blindly through this convoluted plot until its horrific conclusion. Sara Pavlak and Tim Larson play the couple’s two grown kids, Erica and Nate. Both are emotional messes. While Erica is given to loud bursts of expletives and needs to be constantly calmed down by the other characters, Nate is quite possibly autistic, not letting others touch him, obsessing over small things and devoting his life to a voracious reading habit. Both actors are comfortable inhabiting these challenging roles.
Theresa Rebeck once said that her plays were about “betrayal and treason and poor behavior. A lot of poor behavior.” This sums up the drama that unfolds all over Jeremiah Barr’s exquisite beach house set. Loosely based on Greek mythology, Rebeck has written a frightening morality tale for the one percenters.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Sept. 26-Oct. 26 by AstonRep Theatre Company at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-828-9129 or by going to www.astonrep.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.