Chicago Theatre Review
In Love and War
Eroica – Azusa Productions
It’s 1966 and the Viet Nam War, which began four years earlier, is still raging in Southeast Asia. But in this country another conflict is pitting Americans against each other. The US involvement in this controversial war has divided our nation between the staunchly patriotic, who will support President Lyndon Johnson’s decisions, at all costs, and those opposed to the senseless loss of so many American lives. In one small American town, a young woman, whose brother has been declared MIA after his helicopter was shot down, refuses to give up hope or her patriotic principles. Amid growing voices of protesters, often tinged with violence, Sally must face a myriad of emotional confrontations and decisions.
Prolific Chicago playwright David Alex has written a moving, 75-minute drama about secrets kept and confidences betrayed. The play also focuses on how sometimes being patriotic and remaining true to your own ideals, even when you seem to be in the minority, can cause a rift between loved ones. While Sally cringes every time the doorbell or the phone rings, praying it’s not the military delivering the inevitable, tragic news about her brother, Victor, her basketball coaching husband, stresses over his own unrevealed truth. Welcomed into their small home for a holiday visit comes Victor’s sister. Grace is the liberal, somewhat objective voice of reason. She’s a nun who, like many other Americans, disagrees with our country’s Viet Nam involvement. Sister Grace attends protest rallies, despite the personal danger, and wisely observes and judiciously comments on the situation, especially as it involves her family.
Into this warm, yet tense family setting comes Charles, a former student and basketball star harboring his own private roster of secrets and indiscretions. Charles immediately comes off as a shady character, charming and manipulating Sally during one of their computer tutorial sessions. When left alone, we see him rifling through the couple’s belongings, searching for some mysterious piece of information. Charles truly becomes the play’s antagonist as, when left alone with Grace, he appears to quietly threaten her safety. He helps himself to food, puts his feet up on the furniture and challenges Grace’s opinions, all the while caressing her cane as a weapon. This smug troublemaker, we later learn, seeks revenge for something that happened a few years earlier. And although it takes a while before the truth finally comes out, Alex builds an atmosphere of suspense and mystery between all four characters.
Veteran area director Maggie Speers firmly takes the reins of this world premiere production. Staged within Elyse Balogh’s realistically designed modest, small-town home setting, she’s paced Alex’s drama nicely while keeping the focus where it’s needed. The male actors, Felipe Carrasco, as Victor, and Garrett Young, as Charles, tend toward the melodramatic, at times taking the audience out of the story’s realistic world. However, some of this is the fault of the writing, but their performances could easily be dialed down a few notches. The two actresses, both Sara Pavlak McGuire as Sally and Sarah Koerner as Grace, are excellent. They create honest, naturalistic, three-dimensional characters who keep the play grounded in reality. It’s through their eyes, particularly Ms. McGuire’s, that this story revolves and through which we strongly feel its emotional impact.
David Alex’s latest play, presented in this world premiere, is an impressive, thought-provoking drama that, while set during the turbulent years of the Viet Nam War, isn’t really a period play. The story just happens to occur against the background of a country in conflict. A bit moralistic, sometimes melodramatic, the playwright explores the effect of secrets and lies, betrayal and revenge. Alex makes a sound case for respecting other people’s beliefs and ideals, no matter how controversial, because they’re, in fact, very personal. It’s the difference between fact and opinion: facts are either right or wrong, but opinions are subjective for each individual. And through Ms. Speer’s fine production the truth wills out and the battleground between love and war becomes one.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 9-August 7 by Azusa Productions at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box office or by going to www.dime.io.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.