Chicago Theatre Review
You Can Go Home Again
Take Me Back – Poor Theatre Company
After serving four years in prison, Bill has returned to his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma. He’s back living with his mother in the same modest house where he grew up. There’s not much in this small hamlet to motivate or reignite any drive in this young man. Returning to his former humdrum life and caring for his aging, diabetic mother, after years of confinement, provides another challenge. It’s understandable, then, why returning to a life of small-time crime is lucrative for Bill. It offers him some much-appreciated excitement, a feeling of self esteem and a means for securing some easy cash. Then, an unexpected reunion with Julie, his former high school girlfriend, rekindles something special and promising for them both.
Emily Schwend writes with unpretentious, rustic simplicity. Peppered with unexpected humor, Ms. Schwend’s tale of crime and punishment, followed by a failed attempt at redemption, is told with a certain sadness but a continual feeling of hope. This intimate, 90-minute drama is made all the more potent by Will Crouse’s sensitive direction. Set inside Alan Schwanke’s humble, unimposing bungalow, furnished with its well-worn decor and knickknacks, Crouse’s staging is cozy and intimate, full of insights and layers, while remaining visceral and personal. The detailed soundscape designed by Eric Backus, with its outdoor noises balanced by the continual drone of the TV, adds one more layer of realism to this production.
Resembling a young Jake Gyllenhaal, handsome, affable young Dillon Kelleher plays Bill with good-natured persistence but a guarded energy. His mother continually tells Bill that he’s “a good boy,” and Mr. Kelleher takes that as his cue. Understandably, at times, Bill’s anger flairs up in his response to frustration and impatience with those around him, but the actor manages to maintain control and an even keel throughout the play. He’s a sympathetic underdog and, despite all his screw-ups, the “good boy” has the audience on his side.
Susan Monts-Bologna plays Sue with strength and dignity. Sporting a Great Plains drawl and a failing memory, Sue is happier sleeping than housekeeping. She’s a woman for whom life has simply become exhausting. After years of raising two sons alone, Sue now works in a school cafeteria as a cook/nutritionist, although her own restricted diet has become a testy topic between mother and son. School’s out for another hot summer and Sue has become addicted to the Game Show Network, rejoicing in memories sparked by reruns of old quiz programs from a happier, more innocent time. She’s also addicted to her hidden stashes of candy. Smuggling junk food around the house, Sue secretly enjoys her sweets, despite Bill’s constant reprimands. In an ironic reversal of roles, the prodigal son has returned home to care for the parent, although Bill’s choices for his own life are just as bad, if not worse.
Alex Fisher plays Julie with a comfort and honesty that’s as refreshing as a cool breeze blowing across the Oklahoma landscape. Although Julie married and moved away from Muskogee, she longs for the old days. Back home for her brother’s wedding, Julie enjoys spending time visiting with Sue, who she always considered her surrogate mother. Ms. Fisher’s chemistry with Ms. Monts-Bologna is solid and truthful. She finds especial significance and hope in her renewed acquaintance with Bill. After a disappointing married life, and a few beers, Julie is inspired to fall for Bill again, as feelings from five years ago begin to surface. Performed with a naturalness that revitalizes this production with each of her scenes, Ms. Fisher reminds audiences why she’s seen so often on stages all over Chicago. In the minor role of Casey, Juliana Liscio nicely portrays a young, impressionable salesgirl, with whom Bill has conspired to pull off a new swindle. Ms. Liscio, making her professional debut, conveys an anxious, guilt-ridden teenager who’s having second thoughts about joining Bill in his scheme to make a quick buck.
This Midwestern premier of Emily Schwend’s is finely staged by Will Crouse and nicely brought to life by his talented, four-member cast. The communion between actors and audience in this cozy space helps strengthen the dynamics of this exciting production and drives home the play’s power. Apparently, after serving your time in prison, you CAN go home again, as long as you don’t repeat your mistakes. Hopefully this company will be presenting more from this talented young playwright in the near future.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 10-August 8 by The Poor Theatre Company at Collaboraction Theatre’s Pentagon Room at the Flatiron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, 3rd floor, Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.ThePoorTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.