Chicago Theatre Review
Lela & Co. – The Story of a Woman’s Truth
Lela & Co. – Steep Theatre
What happens when the truth and the story are not the same?
Do we listen more intently when the same stories are told over and over again?
Will the truth ever come to light if we tell a different story?
Are there stories that we don’t tell to protect ourselves?
Cordelia Lynn’s story of Lela moved me to feel and think about all these questions. Lela’s story reminds us that we are made up of many stories, but sometimes the truth is not what it seems.
This moving 1 hour and 40 minute piece is sure to leave you breathless. This well written, directed and acted piece is a special play you will not soon forget. The two actors are superb and expertly navigate the subject matter with energy and unapologetic honesty.
From a small area at the side of the room, Lela begins to tell the tale of herself from a young girl. She includes all the factors that shape a young girls’ life; an over bearing father, doting mother, and close sisters. It’s a happy home of celebrations and comfort.
She asks the audience to be the witnesses of the truth. We oblige, we are with her on every word.
Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel’s Lela guides us through her eventual descent into an unfamiliar relationship, an oppressed life of servitude, and the crushing reality of the unbearable loss of herself and her child. She speaks plainly and calmly as she brings the audience with her at every turn as the men in her life master over her at very early age. Ms. Gonzalez-Cadel is indescribably amazing. She moves us slowly but deliberately into the story of her life.
We feel her truth and its pain.
She shares Lela’s story like a beautiful old picture, interpretative, truthful, but must be handled with care Her technical talent needed to master such a piece is evident (it is essentially a monologue).
Ms. Gonzalez-Cadel makes sure Lela does not dissolve in over-done hysteria. She presents Lela with thoughtful regard. The pain behind this actress’s eyes at the end of the show will leave you with goosebumps.
The other side of the coin in this show is the men that Lela must move from, under and around. These men are deftly handled by Chris Chmelik. Simple known as “Man” in the program, he must embody the men that her story encounters. From her father, her brother-in-law to her savage husband, he moves from each one like a master. Subtlety changing his appearance, being louder or softer, or changing the way he speaks are just a few ways he marks his own performance in Lela’s truth telling story. Mr. Chmelik’s tender but torn portrayal of English solider will break your heart. He is effective and meets the story head one for the audience.
Director Robin Witt has handled this piece well. She has managed to bring this sometimes uncomfortable story to the audience with grace. She has pulled a live wire performance from both actors that matched this beautiful and thoughtful script. I loved the staging of this piece as well. The familiar furniture and levels that serve the action in one giant room is comforting and uncomfortable at the same time. You had to work a little to see the action taking pace if they were not directly in your view, but this invested the viewer even further. When the actors directly look at YOU for emphasis or pleading, it is halting and involving.
The design team were all inspiring from the set design (Joe Schermoly), Sound Design (Thomas Dixon), Costume Design ( Jessica Keuhnau) and special shout out to the lighting (Brandon Wardell). It felt like magic.
This piece from Britain was originally performed at the Royal Court in 2015 and was met with critical acclaim.
This production is nothing short of amazing for its great writing, its direction and production values; but the real story is Lela (the & co. will leave you devastated) and the work of Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Chris Chmelik’s .
This is a new story to tell – go listen to this story.
Reviewed by Lazlo Collins
Lela & Co. runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through August 19 at Steep Theatre in Chicago. Get your tickets at www.steeptheatre.com or call 773-649-3186.
Additional information about this and other fine Chicagoland productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com