Chicago Theatre Review
Memories and Mysteries
A Life Extra Ordinary – Gift Theatre
A lovely young woman named Annabel reminisces about her short life, traveling back and forth, between early childhood, her first boyfriend and to the proposal that literally changed her life. We experience a sweet moment on a fishing trip with her father, the time she was brought into the police station for hanging out with the wrong crowd, the nervous pangs of an upcoming piano recital and the irritable discomfort of pregnancy. Throughout this patchwork quilt of memories and recollections, Annabel relives the good times, as well as the bad. And the really bad. Because early on, amid all the warm, funny and fuzzy stories, the audience is jolted by Annabel’s admission that she’s dead. The play bounces through time and space as the spirited young woman relates all the memories, as well as the mysteries.
Melissa Ross is a gifted young playwright who really appreciates those quiet, unsung moments of everyday life and knows how to focus on and celebrate them. Most writers ignore or shy away from such commonplace incidents but Ms. Ross employs them to her advantage. In 2014’s “Thinner Than Water,” an earlier collaboration with Gift director John Gawlik, the playwright boldly looked at a family of siblings, all with their own individual problems, as they dealt with the death of their father. Here again, these two theatrical artists work together to tell the story surrounding another death, but of an ordinary young woman who, in spite of her tragic end, is every bit like all the rest of us. Annabel’s life may be typical but, like each of us, she’s also unique in her own way. Collectively, this woman’s life is ordinary, but as each special memory plays out before us, we’re reminded how extra ordinary is each and every person in this world.
Many of Gift Theatre’s superb company members fill this seven-member cast. Cyd Blakewell is excellent as Annabel. She’s as comfortable and natural speaking directly to the audience as she is in scenes with the other the characters. Ms. Blakewell time travels from childhood to adulthood, while moving from one end of Sarah JHP Watkins’ alley-style setting to the other. The actress is earnest, conversational and fills each moment with the kind of honest, heartfelt acting that we’ve come to expect at the Gift.
She’s supported by the always excellent, and equally terrific Lynda Newton as Grace, Annabel’s caring, but opinionated and controlling mother. Paul D’Addario is warm and touching as Tom, Annabel’s dad. John Kelly Connolly, another veteran of so many Gift productions, plays Bill, a small-town police chief, with his own interesting backstory. In fact, the life of each character in this play could’ve been dramatized, but it’s their collective relationships with Annabel and each other that gives her life it’s importance in this drama.
Annabel’s childhood friend and sweetheart, and the man she should’ve married, Rudy Galvan makes his Gift Theatre debut as Sam. He’s a young married man who works with Bill on the town police force, where he finds himself involved once again with Annabel, but this time as a young woman who’s gone missing on Christmas Eve. Company member Jay Worthington, who has impressed in so many provocative roles on this stage, is Annabel’s mysterious husband, Jeff. The actor plays a smooth-talking operator as he seduces the young horticulturalist into a first date, and ultimately into marriage. And superb actor Darci Nalepa, memorable in so many prior Gift productions, completes the cast as Polly, a sassy single mother who may hold a clue to Annabel’s mysterious disappearance.
This is a play that will haunt audiences for a long time. It evokes as many smiles as tears, and will be impossible to forget. There are everyday scenes filled with the familiar as well as moments that stand out, making theatergoers laugh in delight or cringe in horror. An evening of memory and mystery combine at the Gift to tell a story filled with all the richness that makes up an ordinary life.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 29-November 20 by the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-283-7071 or by going to www.thegifttheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.