Chicago Theatre Review
In the Night Kitchen
Our New Girl – Profiles Theatre
In the middle of the night, a little boy quietly enters through the shadows of a darkened, designer kitchen. He chooses one of the many butcher knives so prominently displayed around the room. Then he sits down at the table in front of a small mirror, swabs his chin with antiseptic and slowly, gently begins stroking his throat with the sharp blade. Suddenly he stops and looks back at the doorway, frightened by something or someone. Quickly he returns everything to its place and hurries off to his room.
The opening scene of this new thriller by British playwright Nancy Harris, now enjoying a terrific Midwestern premier at Profiles Theatre, grabs the audience by the short hairs and never lets go until the very end. There’s something ominous and terrifying about a child alone through a darkened room. Although everyone, including the little boy, seems to be asleep, the stage is wide awake with tension.
The next day Annie, a total stranger, unexpectedly turns up at the kitchen door from her home in Ireland. She’s a pretty, young woman claiming to be the new nanny who was hired by Richard, Hazel’s husband, to provide some much needed order and assistance with their difficult son, Daniel. Hazel, who is several months pregnant with their second child, is shocked because she has no knowledge of any such arrangement made by her husband. The production then alternates between a number of tumultuous events and confrontations between this affluent professional couple, trying to have it all. Money not being an issue, Hazel has given up her career as a high powered lawyer to become a full-time mother. Her husband, Richard, who’s seldom at home, is a highly respected plastic surgeon, traveling around the world to help those less fortunate who’ve been injured in natural disasters. Richard’s need for adventure, to help others and to be celebrated for his charity work overrides his obligations with his own family. Their son Daniel, a mysterious, creepy little boy, harbors his own problems. He’s sassy, defiant, demonstrates strange eating and sleeping habits and is prone to disruptive behavior at the private school he attends. Into this stressful household comes Annie.
Influenced by other stories about governesses and nannies, such as The Turn of the Screw, Ms. Harris explores the effects of such a caregiver. Essentially a total stranger, the nanny arrives on a family’s doorstep, such as this one, often toting more baggage than simply her suitcase Instantly she becomes privy to a family’s darkest secrets and idiosyncrasies. Even in the most “normal” of situations, everyone’s emotional life is suddenly challenged and strained. If there are underlying complications, as in this play, the setting will be rife for conflict. Suffice it to say, Ms Harris’ play is riveting, a chilling mystery filled with suspicion, temptations and resentments. It plays like a modern Gothic thriller with clues and facts being subtly revealed through a variety of twists and turns.
Smartly staged and wisely guided by Artistic Director Joe Jahraus, this production is guaranteed to set audiences on edge. Mr. Jahraus has coaxed some unaffected, honest performances out of his actors. Tyler Reinert’s sleek, impeccably detailed, high-tech kitchen creates a claustrophobic effect. The comfort center of most homes, this room, illuminated by Jessica Fialko’s eerie, atmospheric lighting, becomes a confining, haunted chamber of shadows and secrets. Jeffrey Levin and Oliver Hickman have added to the ominous feel with their original eerie music and sound design; and Raquel Adorno’s costumes nicely illustrate the upper middle class status of these Brits.
Sarah Chalcroft is superb as Hazel. With the look, sound and demeanor of a younger Emma Thompson, Ms. Chalcroft becomes the audience’s surrogate. As Hazel discovers more and more about Annie, her husband and son, the audience uncovers additional facts and secrets resulting in a surprising conclusion. When Hazel is forceful the audience cheers her determination; when she loses control we empathize with her helplessness. Ms. Chalcroft proves to be a plucky, unyielding protagonist with whom the audience can identify.
Miriam Canfield brings a strong, gutsy, determination to her portrayal of Annie. Ms. Canfield’s Irish accent is consistent and clear, serving to emphasize that this young woman is an outsider within this British family. With each scene, the relationship between Hazel and Annie develops further, taking the theatergoer to unexpected places. Layne Manzer, so excellent in a variety of roles all over Chicago, is confident and affable as Richard. He plays his character with all the panache of a self-entitled man for whom his medical martyrdom has taken priority over familial duties. Killian Hughes, as Daniel, has the right look for the role. He nicely conveys a troubled child haunted by problems and concerns that his parents can’t possibly comprehend. However, the young actor needs to project more, especially in this intimate space. Only when the boy is angrily shouting at the others can he be heard or understood.
Nancy Harris’ taut, new drama is a chilling look at modern parenting and family relationships. In this sensational production, Profiles Theatre presents another stylishly directed, gorgeously designed and honestly acted play that will draw audiences in from the very first mysterious moments. In a play that will provide chills on a warm, summer night, this provocative, psychological thriller is suspenseful, sharp and highly polished, just like all those butcher knives that are within such easy reach.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 14-June 28 by Profiles Theatre on The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-549-1815 or by going to www.profilestheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.