Chicago Theatre Review
Four Decades of Loving
Bright Half Life – About Face Theatre
“My father’s dying. Will you marry me?” is the unconventional manner in which Erica first proposes to her soulmate, Vicky. It provokes laughter and pathos at the same time. Told in a refreshing nonlinear style, Tanya Barfield’s story about two people who meet, fall in love, marry, have children, divorce and possibly get back together is a patchwork quilt of memorable moments that make up a life. Its beauty and power come from a number of sources.
First, of course, is the word. This talented playwright’s script is a collection of observations, juxtaposed against a variety of metaphors for soaring heavenward and dropping back down to the earth. She offers an astute awareness of everything that comprises the human condition. Included are such clear visual images as flying a kite, riding a ferris wheel, taking elevators that sometimes stop between floors, sky diving, the ups and downs of a career, as well as taking the plunge into a relationship. Ms. Barfield’s play leaps around everywhere in time, from the present to the past, into the future and back again into the past. Scenes begin, often interrupted by additional scenes, and then resume once more. Some episodes are repeated all over again while others conclude simply and with a flourish.
Next, is Keira Fromm’s dynamic yet sensitive guidance. This Jeff-nominated director, whose work has not only been enjoyed at About Face Theatre, but on stages all over Chicago, has once again left her mark. Her expertise is in guiding actors to truthful performances in a variety of woman-centric works, and this is no exception. In this captivating, two-character story, Ms. Fromm’s athletic navigation and focused leadership keeps this story in continual motion. Like someone with a short attention span and a TV remote in his hand, the scenes jump from one moment to the next. Time and space become fluid and fluky as she suddenly jettisons theatergoers from the past to the present and back again. And, at every turn, Ms. Fromm keeps her actors honest, articulate and empathetic.
Scenes flow into each other, inspired by a single word or knowing look. Yesterday instantly turns into tomorrow and then, just as suddenly, zips back to today. Much credit for these smooth, seamless transitions goes to the fine work provided by William Boles, for his chic, all-purpose, almost futuristic scenic design and Christine Binder’s colorful, swiftly-changing lighting plot, all cued by Christopher Kriz’s plucked violin string sound design.
And, last but not least, are the two incredibly talented Chicago actresses who breathe life into this script. An About Face Artistic Associate, Elizabeth Ledo has generously shared her dramatic and comic gifts in so many other productions, both at this theatre and all around Chicago. Here she plays Erica, the more masculine of the two women and this couple’s more openly gay partner. Ms. Ledo’s face alone tells an entire story; she never has to speak a word. But when she does, Elizabeth is articulate and delivers her passion through every thought and phrase. There’s never a false move nor an insincere word uttered by this accomplished young woman. Ms. Ledo is the driving force in this production.
Patrese D. McClain, in her About Face debut, is thoroughly enchanting as the more feminine Vicky.
While the play jumps around in time and space, we come to not only enjoy this young woman and grow fond of all that she is, but we also understand and even empathize with Vicky’s discomfort at being part of a gay couple. Vicky’s difficulty mostly involves persuading her conservative parents to accept her unconventional lifestyle. Ms. McClain is both impishly charming and instantly attractive, especially as her character falls in love and develops an interdependence and her own personal strength with Erica. The chemistry between these two actors feels genuine and we share all these characters’ pleasure and pain throughout four decades of loving and learning.
This beautiful, nonlinear play is a story of courtship, burgeoning love, marriage and everything that lies between and beyond. It demonstrates, more than almost any other LGBT drama, that love is simply love, and it doesn’t matter who’s involved. This might’ve been about a man and woman, or even two men; but Tanya Barfield’s touching, insightful, often humorous drama is about a lesbian couple. Erica and Vicky each have their own individual strengths and weaknesses that contribute to this romantic story. They’re a likable couple of strong women, a partnership in every way, played with honesty by two astoundingly talented actresses, under the direction of a gifted director. This is a particularly great piece of theatre and a must-see to kick off Chicago’s Gay Pride Month.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 26-July 1 by About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.aboutfacetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.