Chicago Theatre Review
Spiraling Out of Control
Spinning – Irish Theatre of Chicago
In a small coastal Irish village, a man stands on a pier at the ocean’s edge, waves splashing and winds blowing. Conor has just been released from prison and he’s returned to the scene of his crime. There he’s confronted by a distraught woman named Susan, the owner of a nearby seaside cafe. She’s a mother searching for reasons and rationale while unconsolably grieving the death of Annie, her teenage daughter. What happened in the not-so-distant past that connects these two bitterly sad individuals will forever connect them. Their story’s told in a series of flashbacks that also includes Annie, Jen, Connor’s wife and, despite the fact that we never actually see her on stage, Conor and Jen’s innocent little daughter, who’s also a real presence in this gripping drama. This is a story about loss, mistakes and forgiveness.
Dublin-based Deirdre Kinahan is an award-winning playwright whose dramas have been produced around the world and translated into languages. This production marks this probing drama’s US premiere. In this play, Ms. Kinahan unflinchingly examines the closed-mindedness of small town life, while painting the portrait of two families brought together by an unimaginable and unforgivable tragedy.
So as not to reveal too much that would spoil the mystery that unravels within this 75-minute one-act drama, suffice it to say that all four of the characters are hurting, some more than others. Conor’s pain is intensely mixed with guilt and bewilderment at what snapped inside one day that drove him to an irrevocable act, for which he was imprisoned. Susan needs answers from Conor about why her daughter, her reason for living, is no longer with her. Jen, who unwittingly becomes the antagonist, is the catalyst whose actions drive the events that lead to tragedy. She journeys from sexy lover to heartless loser, leaving Conor empty and desperate in her wake. Annie is a bored teenager in a provincial town whose pain stems from living life only through her imagination. She longs for romance and adventure, a need to be wanted and valued, and her desperation takes her to a tragic end.
Director Joanie Schultz’s cast is terrific. She’s paced her drama with a growing sense of darkness, staged with economy and sincerity. Dan Waller, a respected and revered Chicago actor, also known for his excellent work at Steppenwolf and Court Theatres, holds Conor in his heart and soul. He portrays a man for whom life has slammed the door. Facing the prospects of his idyllic existence ending, he grasps at whatever will take away the pain. However, he fails to realize how his actions will also effect two other innocents, who unknowingly become part of his desperate escape. Jodi Kingsley, so excellent in “A Little World of Our Own,” truly shows Chicago audiences the vast scope of her talent. As a woman who’s lost her only daughter, and has come face-to-face with the man responsible for taking Annie away, Ms. Kingsley almost crumbles into Grant Sabin’s sparse, but effective roughhewn ocean pier. But she rages and perseveres. Against her better judgment, Susan seeks to peel away the layers until she’s solved the mystery behind Annie’s death and is able to find some reason for forgiveness.
Carolyn Kruse has the greatest distance to cover in this play because, as Jen, she journeys from intoxicating beauty and seductive lover, to devoted wife, mother and career woman, and finally becoming a woman for whom life has turned stale and unexciting. In many ways, Ms. Kruse’ fine portrayal is much the same path that talented Tyler Meredith, as Annie, must also travel. Although different in age and background, both women are searching for something new and provocative to fulfill their needs. Both actresses understand their characters’ passion for something new and they play their wants with desperation and thoughtless abandon.
This is a play to be savored, rather than enjoyed. It’s like a recent wound that has been torn open and exposed to light. The blood may have stopped flowing slightly, but the nerves are exposed again and the pain continues to throb. There aren’t any pat answers in Kinahan’s play, nor are there solutions. However, the road shared with these four flawed characters as they travel, so filled with hurt, is a path to enlightenment for the audience.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 25-July 3 by the Irish Theatre of Chicago at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office or by going to www.irishtheatreofchicago.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com