Chicago Theatre Review
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
As a blizzard rages outside the doors of a small, Idaho senior care home that’s about to close its doors for good, most of the tenants have already been relocated to other facilities. Only a handful of staff remains to care for the last three patients. They include Tom, who the staff believes to be hard of hearing, and longtime married couple Gerald and Etta. Gerald was a brilliant professor of music for decades, but for the last 12 years the man has sunk deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of dementia. Etta’s provided him with all the love and patience of a saint but, as their upcoming relocation threatens to upset Gerald with more confusion, the man suddenly disappears.
Set within the dilapidated walls of a rundown retirement center Chelsea M. Warren’s realistic set seems truly authentic. With its ghostly, shorted-out electric sliding doors that open and close at will, as if haunted, the building is like another character, gasping its last breath. Illuminated with an eye toward Nature, designer Lee Keenan reflects the dying of the light and the ravages of a storm-induced power outage as day blends into evening and night consumes the eerie premises. Sound designer Thomas Dixon ratchets up the howling winter winds that are so familiar to all Midwesterners, and also provides the appropriate television and musical background noise found in such a facility.
Samuel D. Hunter’s drama is another look at society’s misfits and outcasts. After the popular and critical success of the playwright’s 2013 Drama Desk Award-winning “The Whale,” Artistic Director Chay Yew knew another collaboration between Hunter and director Joanie Schultz was in the cards. Unfolding with a natural, relaxed, matter-of-fact pacing, Ms. Schultz’s production almost feels as if it’s happening in real time. She’s worked hard to keep her actors from “acting,” so that the audience feels as if they’re observing a slice of life, rather than a staged story.
Schultz’s company is led by the magnificent Mary Ann Thebus who, along with stage veterans William J. Norris and Ernest Perry, Jr., are the personification of onstage realism. As Etta, Ms. Thebus in luminous, gently and effortlessly taking audiences on her wistful journey, exploring the past and future with sincerity and heartfelt emotion. Mr. Norris, playing Gerald with truth and honesty, captures all the confusion and momentary discoveries in a patient with dementia. Ernest Perry Jr. provides much of the play’s humor as Tom, a man who plays the game on his own terms and under his own rules.
Steve Key is amusing as Jeremy, the middle-age manager of the nursing home who’s trying to keep hold of the reins when everything around him is falling apart. Amanda Drinkall, so scintillating in Goodman’s “Venus in Fur,” is a conflicted nursing home attendant in this production. Playing Faye, who’s also a surrogate mother-to-be, the irony isn’t lost that here’s a young, insecure woman about to bring life into the world who’s working with individuals facing death. Ms. Drinkall is as competent in this role as she was playing the sexy young actress in the Goodman production. McKenzie Chinn’s Ginny is a seemingly self-assured nursing attendant with things under control, but who secretly wonders if she’s really thought through and planned her future wisely. Young Matt Farabee, who‘s already made quite a splash on other area stages, creates Ken with so many insecurities and fears that his story could be a play in itself. In fact, each of Hunter’s characters is so fascinating, every one of them has a backstory worthy of his or her own play.
This new drama by the author of “The Whale” is another look at a group of people whose world is ruled by doubt and fear. Hope is all but gone and their futures appear dim. They’re the forgotten individuals, the sick and elderly, as well as their caregivers, the unsung heroes of society, who try to bring some dignity to what remains of their lives. Joanie Schultz’s production is an interesting view of those few individuals refusing to go gently into this good night.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 12-October 12 by Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Victory Gardens box office, by calling 773-871-3000 or by going to email@example.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.