Chicago Theatre Review
‘Her America’ a haunting meditation on a decaying land
Her America – Greenhouse Theatre
Greenhouse Theatre’s “Solo Celebration!” series has been one of the undeniable treats of the 2016-2017 Chicago theater season, and “Her America,” the latest in the series, is easily among the company’s finest offerings.
A haunting meditation on a country in decay, “Her America” follows the lonely and confused Lori, who has (for unknown reasons) been confined to the basement of her Iowa home while her husband drinks beer in the backyard and the family dogs run wild through the house. Left to her own devices, she explores the various knickknacks and junk that have accumulated in the space over the decades (the staging from Grant Sabin is remarkable), and she tells stories, shares philosophies, and slowly unveils the devastating personal history that has forced her into exile.
“Her America” is the second world-premiere show in as many years from Brett Neveau (Red Orchid staged his wild, brilliant “Pilgrim’s Progress,” which starred the mammoth talent Michael Shannon), and the play confirms Neveau as one of Chicago theater’s truly compelling voices – and not only in its similarities to the earlier work, but also its differences. “Pilgrim’s Progress” is one of the most gleefully bizarre plays I have ever seen. Featuring the exploits of an insanely eccentric family that conducts all its affairs by contract, the show plowed through its various topics with virtuosic speed, although the humanity of its characters were occasionally lost amidst the sea of references and metaphor. “Her America,” meanwhile, is a much more humane, empathetic work. The wild, non-linear structure is still present, but across the show’s uninterrupted 90 minutes, Neveau presents us with a true flesh and blood Midwesterner: a woman of great passion and sincerity, warmth and prejudice, fear and love; I could be wrong, but it’s difficult to watch “Her America” and not think Neveau was attempting to capture the prejudices and fears that inspired the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
That he succeeds so vitally is thanks to veteran actress Kate Buddeke, who is simply mesmerizing. From “Sideman” to “The Glass Menagerie,” Buddeke has turned in one fantastic performance after another in recent years, but her work in “Her America” takes things to a whole new level. Throughout the play, Neveau writes several emotional crescendos – moments when Lori, lost in thought or remembering a past friend/acquaintance, becomes possessed with fear and anger. Richard Norwood’s subtle light design bathes the stage in a blood red. Lindsay Jones’ sound design bombards the audience with white noise. And as Lori, Buddeke pushes her character right to the edge, right to the moment when the intensity cannot go any further…until it finally culminates in one of the most shocking and profound climaxes I have recently seen on stage.
America is an increasingly divided, isolated place. No play can capture it in all its wily contradictions and hypocrisies, but Neveau and Buddeke have presented a truly original portrait of an essential – and slowly dying – facet of the country.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Feb. 12 by by the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to http://www.greenhousetheater.org/.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com