Chicago Theatre Review
Finger on the Trigger
Cocked – Victory Gardens
Taylor, a Chicago attorney, and her girlfriend Izzy share their lives together in an upscale Andersonville condominium. One Fall evening, as Taylor returns home from a typical hard day of work, she finds, to her shock, that her volatile, immature younger brother Frank has found the spare key hidden under the doormat and has made himself at home.
At first glance, this lesbian couple appears to be perfectly happy, but, as in all couples, there are flaws, betrayals and hidden confidences lying below the surface. With his outspoken manner, Frank not only turns their lives upside down but accidentally exposes some of these shadowy secrets. One such revelation is the girls’ unspoken disagreement regarding their opposing views on gun possession. When an unstable neighbor, whose annoying barking dog begins to threaten their safety, the three young people suddenly show their true colors.
Chicago playwright Sarah Gubbins, whose “The Kid Thing” won the 2012 Jeff Award for Best New Work, has written this timely 90-minute thriller that’s rooted in today’s headlines. Chicago is known internationally for many wonderful things, but in recent years it’s the increase of gun possession, armed assaults and gangland murders that’ve made the news. It’s become an embarrassment, a daily litany of tragic, senseless deaths. But when challenged, the proponents of gun ownership cite their rights, as guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. It’s this debate about whether having a gun in one’s home is a smart move, and if possessing a firearm will keep the owner safe, that ultimately informs this play. But, Gubbins argues, that if everyone owns a gun, no one is really safe. Chicago, indeed all of this country, seems to be moving backward, reverting to the lawlessness of the Old West. Every day resembles the climax from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
In this drama, which also has its share of laughs, a gun suddenly appears after about thirty minutes into the play. The gasp heard from the audience signifies a sudden change of situation. Events intensify and, during the last quarter of the play, a three-way debate on gun possession rages until the play’s shattering climax. Joanie Schultz’s production moves forward with assuredness, periodically amping up the energy until, in the final ten minutes, all hell breaks loose. Chelsea M. Warren’s stylish, detailed scenic design of this Northside, upper-middle class condominium contrasts with the hidden secrets and shocking violence that evolves. Thomas Dixon meets the script’s challenge of providing a sound design that’s integral to the plot, as does Sarah Hughey’s moody lighting plot.
The cast is superb. All three actors have recently proven their talent on other Chicago stages and each inhabits his character with confidence and energy. Kelli Simpkins, so strong in TimeLine’s “Spill,” is magnificent as Taylor. She’s a Windy City lawyer whose job involves solving the problems of others. But, when it comes to handling her own dilemmas, the woman runs into difficulty. She’s smart and headstrong, yet beneath the surface she harbors some hidden secrets. However, when it comes to the question of possessing a gun, Taylor is unmoving in her views.
Mike Tepeli, who showed a range of remarkable talent in Strawdog’s “Great Expectations,” plays Frank, Taylor’s younger brother. Mr. Tepeli creates a fast-talking wheeler-dealer who listens to his sister but then does exactly what he pleases. He makes Frank a frustrating, yet somewhat likable kid, who becomes the catalyst for everything bad that happens in this play. Patrese D. McClain, who greatly impressed in Northlight’s “White Guy on the Bus,” is terrific as Izzie. As Taylor’s partner, she is the buffer between sister and brother. However, despite being an intelligent young woman and a news anchor with certain definite views, Izzie harbors some doubts concerning the couple’s relationship, as well as their personal safety. Together this trio of talented actors make this play sizzle with honesty and electricity.
Secrets and lies, the need to belong, to be loved and to be safe and secure are all at the heart of this domestic drama. There’s also some heated debate about gun possession and control that rings true, especially in a city that continues to have its share of shootings and killings. This unique thriller that ramps up from goofiness to life-threatening tension in 90 minutes of unforgettable drama that audiences won’t soon forget.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 12-March 13 by Victory Gardens at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person or by calling the box office at 773-871-3000 or by going to www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com