Chicago Theatre Review
Our Bad Magnet – Mary-Arrchie Theatre
Take an unsolved local mystery, combine it with a dark, rural tale of lost innocence and lace it with bursts of unexpected black humor and you have the recipe for this wonderful new production. Originally staged by the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company back in 2008, Douglas Maxwell’s first successful play is now enjoying a revival by this Angel Island company. This funny, often surprisingly sad story revolves around an unsettling reunion by three longtime friends who grew up together in a small West coastal town in Scotland.
Fraser, Paul and Alan are three former schoolmates who share an imaginative childhood, a frustrating adolescence spent with an unsuccessful rock band and have a secret past involving Gordon, a troubled young classmate who they’ve nicknamed “Giggles.” This is an ominous, entertaining play about the inspiration for creativity, the validity of memory and an unspoken love. It’s about the art of spinning imaginative stories, coping with years of abuse and about bonding with your buddies. Maxwell’s play is unique, thought-provoking and haunting.
Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, who directed the original production, returns to stage this revival of Maxwell’s play, which includes three of the original 2008 cast members. Set against John Wilson’s mysteriously beautiful, windswept Scottish cliffs, Garcia stages his production utilizing every inch of the intimate Angel Island venue. He keeps his production in continuous motion, illuminated by Matthew Gawryk’s atmospheric lighting and tuned to the rhythms of Joe Court’s sound design. Stefin Steberl’s costumes and wigs effectively create the look for three different decades, from school uniforms to adult work wear.
Dan Behrendt is excellent as Fraser, the self-appointed leader of the gang. He’s quite believable as a fidgety youngster, and as the adult Fraser he becomes, we eventually understand the reason behind this man’s sadness and anger. Mr. Behrendt’s relationships with each of the other men is individual and purposeful. Layne Manzer’s Paul is the manipulator of the group, the smooth talker, always with a plan for success, always ready to use the other boys for his own benefit. John Wilson makes a complex, but humorously nerdy Alan. Forever trying to be accepted, he’s the sad comedian who buries himself in his gadgets, yet he can’t quite see the forest for the trees. These three actors have the advantage of having lived in the skins of these characters before, and they bring the benefit of their experience to this revival.
Lane Flores, the newest cast member, has the least amount of stage time as Gordon/Giggles, but he’s the character that makes the greatest impression. This young actor with the boyish looks is a revelation. He understands how to spin a story and make it live and breathe. He knows how to infuse a moment with sincerity and let it resonate in stillness. And what Mr. Flores doesn’t say in his charming Scottish burr, his haunted eyes tell us. Filled with loneliness and a longing that only Fraser comes to understand, Mr. Flores speaks volumes with a simple look. Everything this young boy has experienced and felt emerges through his imaginative stories, especially the strange but telling allegory that furnishes the title of this play.
Once again Mary-Arrchie demonstrates why they’re one of the best-kept secrets among the Chicago storefront theatres. With excellence that goes back to 1986, productions, such as this, demand to be revived and enjoyed anew. Douglas Maxwell’s exquisite play takes four boys from a small, coastal town in Scotland and lays open their childhood and adolescence, revealing all the secrets and ambitions that eventually made them adults. Most reunions don’t offer as much dark humor and aren’t as tormented or filled with anguish as this one, but then most homecomings don’t unlock as many mysteries as this play. With this bad magnet, opposites surely attract.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 25-April 26 by Mary-Arrchie Theatre at their Angel Island space, 731 W. Sheridan, Chicago.
Tickets are available by the box office at 773-871-0442 or by going to www.maryarrchie.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.