Chicago Theatre Review
‘Strandline’ a Heartbreaking Bore
Strandline – Red Orchid Theatre
Few things are more tragic to behold than talented actors in a lackluster play, and such is the travesty of “Strandline,” a self-important, self-indulgent bore of a play that is receiving its U.S. premiere courtesy of the normally excellent A Red Orchid Theatre.
The concept of “Strandline” has all the right elements for a compelling play. Set in the ever-tumultous land of Northern Ireland, the play follows Mairin, a stuck-up, entitled immigrant from Scotland who is precociously mourning the loss of her beloved husband – though the mourning process, and the neighborhood folk unwittingly wrapped into the procedure, ends up revealing more about her late husband than Mairin had ever counted on.
It’s hardly a fresh concept – Lawrence Kasdan’s early ’80s classic “The Big Chill,” for instance, provides as masterful an example of the form as is possible – but I went into “Strandline” with high hopes, not only because of Red Orchid’s excellent reputation, but also because of the show’s setting and subject matter; Steppenwolf’s superb “The Night Alive,” after all, concerns characters in Ireland.
That could not have been further from my actual experience, though, as the play’s cast (led by Red Orchid ensemble members Dado, Natalie West, and the charismatic Kirsten Fitzgerald) is left dangling by Abbie Spallen’s insufferably wordy writing. Dialogue is the engine of playwriting. I know that sounds obvious, but it merits repeating that through dialogue, as in the actual exchange of words and ideas from actors, a play is truly set in motion, and its themes and narrative and characters are allowed to develop. Never is such a progression allowed in “Strandline.” Simply, Spallen is so self-conscious about writing an important play about Northern Ireland that she fails to offer us anything remotely interesting, and we’re left with talented actors spinning their wheels (or, in less metaphorical words, screaming rampantly) through inconsistent scenes and wildly inconsistent situations. In the showing I saw, two separate couples left the show entirely during the intermission, and looking around during the play’s final minutes, I could not help but notice a genuine lack of interest on every audience member’s face; when the clapping inevitably commenced at the end, it was likely more for the show being over than for the cast and crew’s achievements.
This is all rather heartbreaking to write, given my substantial appreciation for Red Orchid, and I’ve no doubt that the company will bounce back and once again offer top-notch theater; “Strandline,” however, is an undeniable low-point for the storied company.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented Oct. 23 – Dec. 7 by A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610
Tickets are available by calling 312-943-8722 or by visiting http://www.aredorchidtheatre.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.