Chicago Theatre Review
What a Tangled Web We Weave…
Death Tax – Lookingglass Theatre
Maxine, a smart, articulate, well-to-do elderly woman, lies in her hospital bed awaiting death. Maxine’s not concerned by the fact that she’s dying, but rather she suspects that her daughter is paying Tina, her trusted nurse, to slowly and surreptitiously administer drugs necessary to end her life before her time. Maxine is positive that her daughter wants her to die before the end of the year so as to avoid paying an inheritance tax that becomes effective January 1st.
This is only the beginning of a tangled web of lies, deceptions, betrayals and double-dealings that’ll play out in Lucas Hnath’s cleverly-written, 85 minute, five-scene drama that opens Lookingglass Theatre’s 27th season. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that every line spoken within each scene ups the ante and reorders the deck until the final moments of this taut, dramatic, darkly funny play. Not only entertaining, Hnath’s drama is thought-provoking while also being profoundly disturbing.
Director Heidi Stillman’s production is sleek and briskly-paced. Staged on John Musial’s sparse setting comprised only of a bed and nightstand in one scene, a desk chair in another and employing an entirely empty stage in the others, Ms. Stillman and Mr. Musial collaborate to perfectly demonstrate that “less is more.” Seated on three sides of the footlights that delineate the acting area, the audience is never more than a few feet from the action. All the play’s raw emotion is up front and becomes very personal for each playgoer. Audiences of all ages will find something with which to connect in this tale of life, death and money.
- Nicole Brooks magnificently heads the cast as Nurse Tina, demonstrating her versatility by playing another entirely different character in a later scene. Her Haitian dialect is as impressive as it is impeccable, but it’s her portrayal of this kind, desperate young mother that becomes the hallmark of such a standout performance. Ms. Brooks is matched by Deanna Dunagan (Jeff and Tony winner for “August: Osage County”) in her portrayal of Maxine. Ms. Dunagan once again brings to the stage an effortless, dramatic skill that makes her such an inspiring, award-winning actress. When on stage together these two women are a force to behold, complementing each other and easily driving home the story and message.
As both Todd and Charlie, Raymond Fox grows from being a hurt puppy dog to a man refusing to take any more crap and determined to get what he wants and deserves. Louise Lamson plays Maxine’s daughter with verve and strength. Like the other three characters there’s a lot riding on the decisions being made and audiences must decide if this young mother is being truthful or simply manipulating others for her own gain.
Hnath’s drama alternates between darkly comic, repetitious dialogue and situations juxtaposed with tensely dramatic scenes brimming with the needs and desires of each character. Heidi Stillman’s captivating, tightly-crafted production plays like a runaway snowball, rolling downhill at breakneck speed and increasing in size and danger. In this production, all bets are off and it’s impossible to determine who the winner will be…if, in fact a winner will emerge. Sometimes, when the stakes are this high, the winner may also become the loser.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 2-October 12 by Lookingglass Theatre Company inside the historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.