Chicago Theatre Review
Struggling in Stockholm
Hand in Hand – Akvavit Theatre
This unique Chicago theatre company, whose mission is to find universal voices within the Nordic world, presents a bizarre, black comedy by Sofia Freden, in a world premiere translation by Chad Eric Bergman. The play revolves around a group of five diverse millennials, and one middle-aged fellow, all trying to find their place in the midnight sun. Although this play could really be set anywhere, the continual references to the falling snow and the forest, in a scenic design lined with deer antlers and tree branches, reminds us we’re in Stockholm, Sweden. The bevy of ever-irritated buddies bicker and battle for two hours, in their quest for love, money and a roof over their heads.
Directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch, this comedy, which borders on Theatre of the Absurd, is filled with eccentric characters, all behaving badly and spouting bursts of weird dialogue, liberally peppered with profanity. Because, one suspects, this is a translation, their speeches have that stilted quality that comes from a literal interpretation of a foreign language. The comedy has the formality of listening to the reading of a play like “Waiting for Godot.” Characters repeat themselves and each other, and their choice of vocabulary is often at odds with the characters’ education and social status. This, played against Ms. Pautsch’s natural staging, creates an added comic effect.
As the play opens, Nina, played with spunk and certainty by Scottie Caldwell, is packing up Alan’s things and preparing to send him on his way. Alan, portrayed by Jae K. Renfrow, is a mountain of anger and uneasiness, He’s overstayed his welcome, since dropping by one night a year ago, sharing Nina’s bed and apartment every since. That night Nina meets Aaron, a pensive, brooding Derik Iverson, and brings him home, only to have their romantic tryst interrupted by Alan’s unexpected return.
Peter, a frisky fountain of optimism and energy, well-played by Johnard Washington, promises to bring his brother Aaron the money he promised. He steals it from Gary (Todd Michael Kiech), their father, but before splitting it with Aaron he’s sidetracked by a romantic spree with Nadja, the lovely young lady he’s just met at the bar. Nadja, played by Kamille Dawkins, and sporting the most infectious smile ever, has her fun and then slips off into the night, leaving Peter high and dry. Eventually the characters end up at Nina’s apartment, where they’re all puzzlingly invited to stay.
From this point all the loyalties shift. Peter accidentally (or not) burns down Nina’s apartment, leaving everyone homeless once again. Gary provides Nina with new digs in exchange for sexual favors. But it’s a business arrangement with no love involved. Armed with a rifle, Peter resorts to living in the forest, while Aaron and Nadja become a couple. However, in order to secure special housing in Stockholm’s tight real estate market, Nadja chops off Aaron’s foot so that they’ll be considered a handicapped couple. After more bloodshed, lots of shouting and swearing and a series of continually unexpected plot twists, all the characters, except Gary, wind up back together again under the same roof.
This struggle for love, money and housing in Stockholm is one of the strangest, most perplexing plays theatergoers are likely to experience this Fall. While well-acted, this comedy, which calls to mind the works of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco or even Edward Albee’s earlier works, is so whacked out it challenges the audience to make any real sense of the story or its characters. It doesn’t help that the tiny black box venue is hot and stuffy, with uncomfortable seating; but the welcome intermission offers an opportunity for patrons to belly up to the lobby bar for a much-needed cold beverage, or two.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 15-October 16 by Akvavit Theatre at the Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-398-7028 or by going to www.akvavittheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.