Chicago Theatre Review
The Commons of Pensacola – Northlight Theatre
The Bernie Madoff scandal is still part of our collective memory, making this fictional speculation of its repercussions for the villain’s family both fascinating and moving. Judith’s husband is serving time in prison for scamming hundreds of innocent people with his multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme. The question that plagues inquiring minds is if Madoff’s wife Ruth, and by extension the fictional Judith, had any inkling what her husband was doing to make his fortune?
Actress-turned-playwright Amanda Peet, has written an interesting play about mother/daughter relationships that just happens to also be reminiscent of the Madoff situation. Judith has been forced to leave her luxury Manhattan apartment and is working hard adapting to a simpler lifestyle in her modest Pensacola condo. It’s Thanksgiving and Judith has invited her two grown daughters, Ali and Becca, Ali’s teenage daughter Lizzy, and Becca’s boyfriend Gabe to come spend the holiday with her in Florida. Unable to break away from her pampered life style, Judith has employed Lorena as a caregiver and housekeeper. Ruling with an iron hand, Lorena keeps the elderly Judith on schedule with her medication and meals.
The problem with this play is that it feels like the first act of something bigger. Clocking in at under 90 minutes, Ms. Peet’s drama is filled with unexpected humor and intriguing possibilities that beg to be fleshed out. A certain resolution occurs in the final scene, following a 24-hour marathon of uncomfortable reunions, a health scare and trip to the ER, the discovery of hidden cash, a romantic betrayal and all those constant doubts and continual questions for Judith about the part she played in her husband’s crime. However, the whole evening feels like a teaser, just the tip of the iceberg. It feels as if there’s more story waiting to be told.
Director Robin Witt keeps her production moving at a comfortable pace. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s realistic condo setting works well in Northlight’s intimate space, allowing Ms. Witt the perfect amount of space in which to tell her story. Thanks to Sarah Hughey’s fine lighting design, especially in helping audiences envision a coming hurricane, the final scene in the television studio works well.
Linda Kimbrough brings humor, strength and honesty to her portrayal of Judith. As a woman who’s had her entire life turned upside down but can’t find sympathy from her own family, let alone the public, Ms. Kimbrough is excellent and heartbreaking. Luisa Strus shares the heart of this play as Becca. Ms. Strus convincingly plays a 40-something daughter who’s suffered at the hands of her father. Forced to live out of her car, Becca sincerely wants to believe in Judith’s innocence but secretly harbors doubts concerning the sincerity of both her mother and Gabe, her younger boyfriend. The young woman’s struggle to maintain balance when her life seems to be crumbling beneath her feet is admirable and sad, especially as played by Ms. Strus. Lily Mojekwu, so moving in “A Twist of Water,” is a no-nonsense caregiver who likes her employer but has her own agenda to keep, as well. Erik Hellman, excellent in both Northlight’s “Lost in Yonkers” and Goodman’s “Luna Gale,” is natural and charismatic as Gabe. A kindly young man with a few secrets of his own, Mr. Hellman brings an easy authenticity to Becca’s boy toy.
Amanda Peet’s short drama is both riveting and humorous. As a play, motivated by one of the most devastating financial tragedies in recent history, it fictionalizes the event and dares to ask, “What happened next?” The play’s immediacy can’t be denied and is attributed both to Ms. Peet’s script, as well as Robin Witt’s excellent, straight-forward direction and her cast of talented actors. This play may be complete and just long enough for some playgoers, but a more involved, fully-developed drama, which would satisfy other audiences, seems to lie a few scenes away.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 12-October 19 by Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.
Tickets are available at the Northlight box office, by calling 847-673-6300 or by going to www.northlight.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.