Chicago Theatre Review
The Monster You Love
The Beautiful Dark is a world premiere written by Erik Gernand and directed by Josh Altman. It is performed at Redtwist Theatre’s quaint space in the Bryn Mawr Historic district of Edgewater. It is the story of a mother whose son comes home after being kicked out of school for writing a violent play. The troubled son, Jacob, concerns his family with depressed behavior, angry out bursts, and secret late night outings. This play studies the family dynamic when one child is seriously disturbed, to the point of potentially hurting others.
The small space was very intimate. The audience was right in the middle of dramatic shouting matches. It felt like being at home during high school. I would recommend sitting on the sides so you get a full view of all scene. Being so close certainly felt like intruding into someone’s home and watching their family fall apart in front of you. By the end, I understood that real families who deal with a mentally ill child must have a very dark and complicated experience.
Aaron Kirby played the part of the unbalanced son, Jacob, and he stood out amongst the other actors. He played his character with a charming, yet erratic quality that made it unclear whether anything he said was trustworthy. He played a Holden Caulfield-esque teen, too smart to fit in with his peers. The emotional center of this piece is Nancy, played by Jacqueline Grandt. Grandt could have channeled a bit more of the pain that must haunt the mother of a violent child. Nancy clearly felt she was not in control of her children, and cared about them, but it would have been sweet to see a bit more of whatever pleasantness might have existed between her and her son at some point. This relationship started to shine through in a scene where mother and son share a secret cigarette together. The play does touch on how trust is a difficult quality to maintain is such a household, and how every family member tries to find their own way of coping. The relationship between Jacob and his brother Charlie, played by Jacob Bond, has nice chemistry. They capture some of that honesty that exists between siblings but not parent and child.
Reading through the play’s history, Gernand was motivated to write this script after the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Exploring the families of shooters is a difficult, but admirable pursuit. Because of the heavy subject matter, I felt The Beautiful Dark could have a few more monsters lurking beneath the surface. It was an effective story, but the play could have pushed the audience a little harder to look at violent individuals as real people with real families. It does this to a certain extent, but I’m the type of audience member who likes to be pushed out of their comfort zone.
My favorite part was a short story written and recited by Jacob from which the title of the play comes from. It was about a blackbird that doesn’t understand the other birds. He knew he was smarter then them, but in the end that only made him try to be like them more. Like this section, what the production kept simple felt the most profound. The Beautiful Dark is a decent start to the discussion of how mental illness affects families.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Redtwist Theatre’s The Beautiful Dark
Presented July 27 – September 1 by Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 773.728.7529, by visiting redtwist.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.