Chicago Theatre Review
It’s All Greek to Me
Bruise Easy – American Theatre Company
Playwright Dan LeFranc has penned some interesting and successfully insightful, well-written dramas that reveal life’s finer moments that most of us tend to forget. His work, “The Big Meal,” which was critically heralded as one of ATC’s finest recent productions, was such a work. Influenced by American playwright, Thornton Wilder, the playwright explored many of the same themes and in the same fashion. However, LeFranc’s latest offering is a less successful attempt to revisit some of the themes found in classical Greek drama and transport them to the 21st century.
Told by two siblings who’ve each been raised by one of their divorced parents, the drama is commented upon now and then by a chorus of Halloween-masked neighborhood kids. Instead of the steps of a Greek temple, this tragedy about bad parenting plays out in the driveway of a California tract house. All day long the hot sun beats down on these two young people and at night the chilling wind blows off the nearby ocean. The play is structured chronologically as a series of scenes comprising a 70-minute one act. The play begins very slowly, moves in fits and starts and then ends awkwardly. There are instances of humor, many surprising admissions and some shocking moments of connection and intimacy. But, in the end, none of it really adds up to much. Like a Greek drama, LaFranc’s play is a riff on how the sins of the parent are destined to be repeated by the offspring. We never see the mother or father, but we get a sketchy picture of them through their kids’ conversation. As the final moments fizzle away we’re left only with the memory of a burned out teenage boy and his older sister who have been left on their own to fend for themselves.
Director Joanie Schultz does what she can with this slight script that seems more like a work in progress than a finished play. She has staged her production in front of Chelsea Warren’s plain, but expansive garage setting, stuffed with hoarded junk and forgotten memories. The story is nicely lit by Lee Keenan’s time-chasing illumination and uses some fun, psychedelic projections. Alec and Tess lounge in the driveway, roam up and down the street in front and ransack through boxes stored inside. What they can’t do is make this acting exercise into a cohesive story worth the time and attention of an audience.
Kelly O’Sullivan, one of Chicago’s most accomplished and respected young actresses, gives her all to the role of Tess. She rages and rallies, coalesces and contradicts. It’s unfortunate, however, that Ms. O’Sullivan has so very little to work with in this play. Matt Farabee plays her brother Alec with a quiet, drugged-out intensity. As this slacker surfer dude Mr. Farabee, whose work around Chicago has become increasingly impressive with each appearance, is an often reticent foil to Tess’ outbursts and admissions. The two actors make the roles their own and work well together, but to what end?
By the final moments, given to some head-scratching commentary by the Greek chorus of neighboring teenagers, the audience is ready to throw in the towel and head back to something they can both appreciate and understand. Unfortunately, this confusing, almost infuriating play comes off more like an acting exercise than a satisfying night of theatre. The piece might work well in an academic setting but, unfortunately, it’s just not ready yet for primetime playgoers.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 14-February 14 by American Theater Company at their venue at 1909 W. Byron, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the ATC box office at 773-409-4125 or by going to www.atcweb.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com