Chicago Theatre Review
Where Your Devotion Lies
For the Loyal – Interrobang
Mia is seven months pregnant when Toby, her young husband, college football coach-in-training, shares a shocking secret with her. Despite being warned not to tell anyone else by his superior, Toby just can’t keep this to himself any longer. He’s unexpectedly witnessed Carlson, the school’s head coach, involved in a sexual situation that will ultimately cost the much-respected head of the football team his job. By being made privy to the details, Mia has become ensnared in the scandal herself.
Lee Blessing is one of America’s finest living playwrights, and this is his most recent work. In only its second staging, this story is 80 minutes of raw emotion and dramatic wordplay. Unlike his other plays, Blessing hasn’t created a cast of fully-fleshed out characters. Each of the five actors portrays a stereotypical, two-dimensional person. Three of actors even play several different roles. They’re almost like a Greek chorus, continually commenting on the shocking situation that was inspired by the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.
In this play, Blessing begins with Toby painfully sharing his secret with Mia, but then it crosses over into fantasy. What happens next in this tension-filled one-act should be experienced firsthand. Eventually, however, the audience figures out that the scenes that follow are all part of an imaginary scenario. It’s as if we’re seeing every possible outcome from this criminal act through Mia’s imagination. The play ends with a return to reality and the audience understands that the journey Mia has taken, and the place she’s landed, all could’ve been a lot different. From how each character responds to the shocking situation, to the lyrics of the school fight song, Blessing asks us to contemplate what it means to be loyal. Dedications are examined and each character’s conscience is tested.
James Yost has directed his production with passion and dignity. Yost’s sound design is especially effective, launching each scene with a powerful aural explosion announcing a different beginning. His ensemble cast is very good, beginning with Sarah Gise as Mia. The actress is called upon to create an emotional, constantly-changing young wife and mother-to-be, whose moral spectrum and responses are continually questioned. In this ever-shifting story, Matthew Nerber gives a solid performance as Toby, a young husband tortured by the conundrum of choices: what’s right and what’s best for his family and career. As Head Coach Carlson, the perpetrator of the sexual scandal, Rob Frankel portrays a smug, middle-aged man who doesn’t seem to be sorry for the crimes he’s committed. Josh Zagoren is all macho and controlling as Coach Hote, the individual who has to deal with the mess and sweep it under the rug. And Richard David is quite impressive as the Boy, both Carlson’s victims and Mia’s future teenage son.
This production fulfills Interrobang’s promise. It’s raw. It jettisons the story directly to the forefront, stripped of fancy scenery and costumes. Lee Blessing’s play is powerful and often difficult to experience, but it’s given a production full of power and passion that explores the current #MeToo movement from a different point of view.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 6-February 4 by Interrobang Theatre Project (as part of their RAW series) at the Athenaeum Theatre Studio 1, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 773-935-6875 or by going to www.interrobangtheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.