Chicago Theatre Review
Haunted by a Nightmare
The December Man – Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co
In 1989 a psychopath named Marc Lepine wandered into Canada’s Ecole Polytechnique and, without reason and in cold blood, murdered 14 young women. Forever known as The Montreal Massacre, Jean, an aspiring young architect, was among the young men who witnessed this bloody act of insanity and lived to tell about. Jean’s life became haunted by the nightmare of this incident, particularly how he was powerless to intercede and save his classmates. Eventually Lepine turned the gun on himself. Colleen Murphy’s melancholy observation at how these all-too-familiar tragedies, from the Colorado movie theater bloodbath to the mass slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, not only end the lives of the victims but destroy the lives of the survivors.
This 90-minute one-act begins with Kathleen and Benoit, a middle-age, working class couple, dressed in their finest clothes, exchanging ambiguous smalltalk. As they seat themselves on the sofa in their squeaky clean living room they are awaiting…something. We aren’t exactly sure what it is until the clues horrifyingly point to the fact that the couple is planning their joint suicide. The play then evolves backwards in time and the audience discovers, in reverse order, all the horrifying incidents that’ve led up this tragedy. We see Jean, a young man in emotional agony over something in his past but, once again, the audience isn’t provided with that information until a few scenes later. Eventually we learn that Jean is a bright young college student who aspires to become an architect. In a series of painfully unsettling scenes the theatergoer is taken back through the years to years prior to and following this incident at the college. The play’s a mystery story, but told in inverted chronological order. Muphy’s choice to tell her story in this fashion creates a feeling of frustration. The audience knows the sad outcome for these three characters, but we can only sit helplessly and witness the events that brought them to their tragic ending.
Director Patrick New’s production is straightforward and unaffected. It plays out, with a requisite air of perplexity, but with a staccato quality. Each scene begins in silhouetted tableau, the stage darkens and then the lights come up to reveal the action. This stop-and-start motion has the affect of keeping the audience on edge. Watching this play is never comfortable, but then neither is the subject matter. Barbara Roeder and Mike Speller, both marking their debut at Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., are excellent as Kathleen and Benoit. Creating a realistic, blue collar couple of a certain age, the two bicker, make each other smile but ultimately love each other completely. They’re natural and realistic with Murphy’s dialogue and their chemistry is honest. As Jean, Rudy Galvan has a unique acting challenge. The young man begins the play devastated at having witnessed an unthinkable tragedy and haunted by his inability to have changed the course of events. In this, Mr. Galvan is excellent. So much is told through the actor’s anguished body language, but particularly through his eyes.
This is not a play, designed to entertain; it’s a drama that effectively explores how tragedy affects all the survivors. In a production that’s frank, chilling and filled with the ghosts of the helpless, we have a psychological examination of the horror that seems to be part of our everyday world. The almost constant occurrences involving gun violence, fueled by those disturbed, angry individuals who can’t find any other way to calm the demons inside them, is portrayed here with unflinching realism. This is a play that will torment and terrify playgoers, but it will make them empathize and think. It’s, unfortunately, a ghost story for today’s world.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 19-June 28 by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., at their Angel Island space, 735 W. Sheridan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling Ticketweb at 866-468-3401 or by going to www.maryarrchie.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.