Chicago Theatre Review
Honey, I’m Home!
Edgar & Annabel – Poor Theatre
When Edgar returns home from work finding Annabel putting the finishing touches on dinner, the audience begins to sense that something’s amiss when the young woman reacts as if she’s been hit in the stomach. Even though she says nothing, Annabel’s surprised look tells us she’s expecting someone else; as it turns out, she is. There’s an awkward, artificial argument over whether Annabel has fixed chicken or fish for the main course, and then the weirdness escalates. Scripts are suddenly produced and the dialogue continues, except that now the two characters are reading all of their lines. What the heck is going on?
This Midwest Premiere of Sam Holcroft’s courageous and fascinating 90-minute comic political thriller, which had its genesis four years ago at London’s National Theatre, is funny, edgy and oddly captivating. What at first makes almost no sense slowly begins to reveal some basis in a certain kind of reality. By the second scene we learn that Edgar and Annabel are actually the names of the fictional characters played by Nick and Marianne (who are, in turn, played by Michael Medford and Abbey Smith), two members of an organized resistance, working to combat the dystopian government now in control of America. We find ourselves immersed in an Orwellian society where recycling is the law, prices for basic needs have escalated out of control and common citizens, suspected of not supporting this regime, are arrested on the spot and imprisoned (or worse). Within this paranoid world, every home is under surveillance, monitored by computers which can detect and analyze speech patterns and everyday sounds, in order to discover any subversive activity. Nick and Marianne must talk to one another through scripts written for them by Miller, one of the resistance leaders (Robert McLean), in order to not arouse suspicion and insure their characters’ governmental allegiance.
One of the funniest scenes in the play occurs when another couple, Tara and Mark (Erika Haaland and Will Crouse), arrive for a “karaoke party,” which is employed as a somewhat off-key, auditory cover-up for the sounds made as they take turns building a pipe bomb. Theatergoers won’t ever hear Starship’s prophetic “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” without recalling this very funny episode, although the comedy slightly fizzles as the bit runs on a little long. Several other comic moments, such as improvising the sounds of opening a wine bottle and pouring it into a glass, all show how cautious people have become in not giving away the rebellion. But the playwright has created a frightening, oppressive society that may be just as vile as the government they oppose. She’s created characters willing to sacrifice their personal lives for the greater cause. These individuals balance precariously along the edge; but when they make mistakes and are no longer useful they’re disposed of and replaced.
Hats off to Brad Akin for his intelligent, expert direction. He’s drawn exciting performances from his cast, while keeping the production in continual motion. Akin’s also utilized Isabel Strauss’ intimate kitchen setting, with all its hidden compartments, to its fullest potential, making every inch of space count. Much applause goes to designer Robin Miller for the gargantuan array of props she’s created, as well as to stage managers Jerald Raymond Pierce and Laura Swierzbin, for precisely presetting all the food, kitchenware, weapons, scripts and countless other accessories. Much of this play’s success depends upon these unseen heroes.
The entire cast is quite good, with Ms. Smith (so excellent in Shattered Globe’s “Our Country’s Good”) and Mr. Medford (terrific in Strawdog’s “Big Love”) standing out as Annabel/Marianne and Edgar/Nick. The play focuses more on plot, rather than character; and although this production takes the audience by surprise and keeps them guessing with every scene, it will undoubtedly become even smoother with each performance.
Sam Holcroft’s dystopian comic drama is a clever, bold and admirably intelligent play that constantly surprises its audience with its twists and turns. Expertly directed, well-cast and performed with plenty of verve and vision, this excellent, highly entertaining piece of political theatre is well worth seeing.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 14-March 15 by The Poor Theatre at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-340-0140 or by going to www.thepoortheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by going to www.theatreinchicago.com.