Chicago Theatre Review
A Woman on the Verge
In a Word – Strawdog Theatre
Filled with anguished pain and unexpected humor, while toying with time, space and the use of words, Lauren Yee’s long one-act is a tale of love and loss. Guy returns home from work planning to treat his wife to a fancy night out. It’s Fiona’s birthday and he’s made reservations at a nice restaurant as a treat. But Fiona’s reluctant to leave the house. This day also happens to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of the couple’s eight-year-old son, Tristan. Despite Guy’s best efforts, Fiona’s flies uncontrollably from memories of her abducted little boy to her continual reevaluation of possible missed clues regarding his whereabouts.
In a stunningly powerful, emotionally gripping production, directed with an energetic fervor that drives the momentum of this play to its conclusion, Jess McLeod demonstrates that, as director, she has a definite feel for Ms. Yee’s unique style and subject matter. She gets inside Fiona’s obsession and ferrets out those small, almost unnoticed moments that fuel all the insecurity and suspicion, every self-incrimination and accusation. Inventively staged within and without Sarah JHP Watkins’ impressively adaptable living room setting, Ms. McLeod has kept this production in constant motion. The only exceptions are the quiet moments necessary for Fiona to reflect upon what’s happened to her idealized life. Kudos to Izumi Inaba for a wardrobe that allows for some lightning-fast costume changes.
The cast is magnificent. Returning to this stage after her excellent portrayal of Miss Havisham and others in last fall’s “Great Expectations,” Mary Winn Heider has a firm grip on Fiona, a character who’s losing her own grip on life. Skillfully she shows us a woman who has experienced one of life’s cruelest tragedies, the loss of a child, but who simply can’t escape all her self-imposed guilt. Heider’s Fiona, despite her bursts of nervous laughter, is obsessed with solving the mystery of what actually happened the day Tristan disappeared. She blames herself for everything, from the circumstances surrounding her baby’s adoption to her son’s ADHD and how he was treated at school. Of course, Fiona is most bitterly remorseful about the role she played in her son’s disappearance. The intricate layers of portrayal and the truthfulness with which Mary Winn Heider brings Fiona to life are absolutely natural and sound.
As the Man,Gabriel Franken has the difficult challenge of creating a multitude of characters from Fiona’s world, and he does so with skill and artistry. He portrays a hard-nosed police detective closing this difficult case after two years. Then he instantly transitions, right before our eyes, into little eight-year-old Tristan, a boy riddled with emotional problems that challenge his parents and his teachers. On a dime, Mr. Franken becomes the school principal, a man trying to deal both with Tristan and his mother Fiona, a teacher whose personal problems have clouded her professional judgment. Next he plays Guy’s drinking buddy, followed by a mysterious stranger followed by a policeman who’s simply trying to carry out his duty. Seamlessly Franken morphs from character to character with the ease of pulling on a sweater or removing a necktie.
John Ferrick, an actor with dozens of noteworthy credits on his resume, skillfully maneuvers his way through the complicated role of Guy, Fiona’s frustrated, loving husband. Torn by his love and devotion for this woman on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and his own guilt for everything surrounding his son’s disappearance, Mr. Ferrick is the one constant in this ever-changing drama. Audiences will feel his pain, perhaps even more than Fiona’s, because he’s trying so hard to balance work, home and the emotional lives of both his wife and himself. Ferrick brings as much honesty and finesse to this less showy role as his two cast mates, but it’s Guy’s tortured face that haunts the theatergoer’s memory as he leaves the theatre.
This emotionally raw play is a work in progress. It’s a project of the National New Play Network, a collective that fosters and supports new theatrical works. As such, this current Chicago presentation follows Lauren Yee’s recent productions and script revisions of her play in San Francisco, San Diego and Cleveland. It’s hard to imagine this piece being in better shape than it is in this devastating Windy City production. It’s a theatrical punch to the gut that will leave audiences breathless.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 5-March 19 by Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111 or by going to www.strawdog.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com