Chicago Theatre Review
Stage Left’s ‘Keys’ Deals with Faith – and Skepticism – with Sincerity
Keys of the Kingdom – Stage Left
A play of refreshing sincerity and wonderful performances, Stage Left Theatre’s world-premiere production of “Keys of the Kingdom” continues the company’s winning streak, which has seen it stage such shows as “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” and the superb “Principal Principle.”
Set in present day Des Moines, “Keys” mainly follows two characters: Irene (played with ferocity and intelligence by Kate Black-Spence), a renowned painter (and atheist) from New York tasked to pain a ceiling mural at a mega church in the Iowa city; and Arthur (played by the excellent Brian Plocharczyk), the profoundly religious (and profoundly troubled) assistant to the church’s charismatic pastor who oversees the mural’s painstaking production.
I used the word “sincerity” in both the headline and opening sentence of this review because no other word does “Keys” better justice; simply, Penny Penniston’s play (and Stage Left’s terrific cast) refuse to play it coy and cheap with the religious subject matter of the production, and such emotional maturity is a welcome addition to Chicago’s theatrical scene. Heck, even the pastor of the mega church (played with considerable charm and genuineness by Don Bender), a character that could have so easily been played up for cheap laughs or corrupting plot twists, is handles with sincerity and care. And though there are numerous moments of humor in the play (some of it barbed), the characters and their beliefs are never shortchanged, and I appreciated Penniston’s empathy – and I say that as someone who is not particularly religious.
And to reiterate, the excellent cast of “Keys” aid Penniston’s text to a significant degree. In addition to Black-Spence and Plocharczyk – both of whom, I should mention, take a radical 180-degree turn from the zany, satirically comedic roles they played in Theater Wit’s production of “The Coward” – there is also the excellent work of McKenzie Chinn (who was remarkable in the aforementioned “Principle Principal”) and Kathryn Wolf.
“Keys” falters somewhat in its final third, when Penniston attempts to introduce divine intervention into the narrative (in my view, it interrupted the more interesting earthly matters of the play), but it hardly damages what is, in the end, a very worthwhile and, yes, sincere production.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented Jan. 10 – Feb. 15 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Tickets are available by calling 773-975-8150 or by visiting www.stagelefttheatre.com
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.