Chicago Theatre Review
Ghosts of the Southern Past
Cicadas – Route 66
Amid the relentless, scorching summer heat and the continual maddening screech of cicadas, a young Mississippi boy tries to help his mother sort out the ghosts from her past. Probing inquiries unearth a myriad of stories from the past and by the end of this one-act an unexpected revelation comes to light.
Jerre Dye’s poetic southern drama rides over waves of angst and anger, laced with moments of unexpected humor. Through the wooden slats of Brian Sidney Bembridge’s tumble-down shack the ghosts appear to walk through the walls. They continue to haunt Lily’s memory refusing to leave her in peace. Ace, Lily’s devoted 17-year-old son, desperately tries to apply balm to his mother’s soul while eventually escaping from the hot, rural cabin that holds him prisoner. Throughout the evening ghosts wander aimlessly, accusing and blaming Lily for past events without ever offering comfort or care for this emotionally drained woman.
Lily, as it turns out, isn’t the only resident of this tiny hamlet who’s haunted by ghosts. Rather than being tormented by the spirit of her late husband LaNora, Lily’s neighbor, finds comfort and a certain amount of happiness in the spectral presence of Preacher. In fact, he seems to bring LaNora more joy than any of her living acquaintances. Outside, the cicadas continue singing their song until they die, much like this feisty woman.
Erica Weiss has directed her cast with loving care and a feel for Dye’s poetic dialogue. She’s staged the play much like the lyrical ebb and flow of his words, allowing the ghosts to continually fill the atmosphere of Lily’s world. Ms. Weiss makes visible the invisible creating a choreographed world for Lily’s haunted psyche. Her cast is uniformly impressive. Amy Matheny, whose stage credits are as impressive and varied as the phantoms who haunt her character, completely inhabits Lily. The torment Ms. Matheny conveys is only surpassed by the unending love showered on her son. Aaron Kirby is most impressive as Ace. Seeking elusive answers and ultimate peace for both his mother and himself, Mr. Kirby drives through a nightmare of discoveries taking the audience on his journey through to the startling climax. Mr. Kirby demonstrates he’s a promising actor with a solid future ahead of him.
As LaNora and Preacher, Cecelia Wingate and Robert Breuler are magnificent. As comfortable and easygoing as a real old married couple, this duo demonstrates how natural and effortless great acting can be. Josh Bywater brings an insouciant, undemanding quality to Dad that’s tinged with love and longing. Stacy Stoltz’s Momma and Susan Monts-Bologna as Granny charge this production with an almost venomous presence that intimidates and chills.
Certain to be compared with other southern playwrights like Lillian Hellman and Horton Foote, Jerre Dye’s play about a middle-aged woman haunted by the ghosts of her past is more reminiscent of Tennessee Williams, even Harper Lee. In his current work, audiences will find the promise of an exciting new playwright represented in a memorable, thought-provoking production by one of Chicago’s consistently fine theatrical companies. In the intimate Greenhouse Studio audiences will discover an evening that both turns up the heat while offering a few chills. Throughout everything the cicadas continue to sing until they die.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 9-May 25 by the Route 66 Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Greenhouse Theater box office, by calling 773-404-7336 or by going to www.greenhousetheater.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.