Chicago Theatre Review
The Firebirds Take the Field – Rivendell Theatre
It starts in the lobby of Rivendell Theater. A television showing clips from the real-life outbreak of the “Girl Disease” that struck 18 young women in the small, post-industrial town of LeRoy, NY, leaving them with strange turrets like symptoms: random extensions, hums, and cries. Is it a virus, some environmental toxin, a rogue gene? Or something deeper?
In Lynn Rosen’s new drama LeRoy is transformed into Highland Falls, at the outbreak starting with two cheerleaders for the High school Firebirds, Agatha Cooper (Hannah Toriumi) and Lucia Bowen (Aurora Real de Asua). Dr. Avery Kahn (Meighan Gerachis), the brilliant but acerbic pharmacologist left Highland Falls twenty five years ago, but is called back at the bequest of her old friend Helen Fraselli (Rebecca Spence) who’s daughter Penelope (Jessica Ervin) is beginning to show signs of the infection.
Rosen has crafted a twisty script that relishes its surprises, and clearly juggles a complex tangle of relationships, slights, intrigues, and unspoken fears without muddling the issue or losing sight of the medical mystery set for us to solve. She is also graced with a fine tuned sense of humor and the laugh-lines grow ripe and fall readily, particularly when wielding Avery’s barbed wit. Gerachis is a perfect fit for the dyspeptic doctor and her dead pan delivery of her asides and put downs hits a bullseye, while her nervousness around so many youths is charming. She gives, and has been given, perfectly inhabited performance, the right blend between the actor’s craft and the playwright’s art.
Though sometimes touching on the eerie when the disease begins to manifest (thanks to the thrillingly creepy light of Paul Toben, as much as Ervin, de Asua, and Toriumi’s killer athletics), the play, under direction from Jessica Fisch, shines out in it’s moored to the realistic. Even the Highland Falls High School gym, the canvas upon which the story is stretched, has been waxed and scuffed and bedecked by dusty banners to anxiety producing exactitude by Joanna Iwanicka. It’s a wonder to feel the organic fizz of of thee intimacies and hostilities of “Penny, Loosh, and Ag’s” I-hate-you-I-love-you-I-hate-you friendship, mirrored by Helen and Avery’s comfort or distrust in the other. It’s the little things, Avery engrossed by trash television or the pure joy on Helen’s face as she runs down her old cheer routine (with the energetic zing by choreographer Catherine Scott while watching the team at work, that bring the Firebird’s too life.
And, phantom cheerleaders aside, the show is pointed reminder about a very real problem. The “Girl Disease” or “Conversion Disorder” as it is more properly called, is more prevalent than we’d care to admit. And, exceptions and media branding aside, is a distinctly female affliction. Rosen’s work, and Rivendell Theater Ensembles’s, creates a truly feminist story: about a band of women, with shining virtues and tragic flaws in equal measure, struggling against each other, their society, the natural world, and their own secret selves. And this story of suffering, with all it’s sparkling wit and pounding reverses, though not tied up in some pretty, triumphal position, offers us an moving ending that is not unlike hope.
by Ben Kemper
Warning: Contains Strobe Lights
Rivendell Theater Ensemble 5779 N Ridge Avenue (off Bryn Mawr Red Line station)
Thursday through Saturday’s at 8:00
Saturday Matinee’s at 4:00
Tickets $38, $28 for Student, Senior, Military and Veteran.
Five seats available for Pay What You Can each performance: first come, first served.
For tickets contact (773) 334-7728
or visit www.rivendelltheater.org
For more information on this or other performances please visit theaterinchicago.com