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Rivendell’s Eat Your Heart Out Dissects Motherhood

Katherine Keberlein and Anne Joy in Hallie Gordon’s production of Eat Your Heart Out at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. (Photo: Joe Mazza)

Eat Your Heart Out by Courtney Baron, now receiving its Midwest premiere at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, tracks the intersecting paths of half a dozen characters, all making semi-futile efforts to defeat loneliness and four of them concerned with the motherhood variation on this theme. Divorced social worker Nance (Katherine Keberlein) and her teenaged daughter Evie (Anne Joy) fight about Evie’s excess weight, making it a surrogate for every one of their disappointments and resentments and losses. Nance meanwhile is charged with evaluating the suitability of Alice (Mary Cross) and Gabe (Michael Szeles) to be adoptive parents, in a home visit which moves precipitously from awkward to disappointing to resentful to explosively hostile—and, ultimately, lost. As these events unfold, Nance’s blind date (Charlie Strater) and Evie’s wished-for boyfriend (Andrew Goetten) get hit with the shrapnel.

The subject matter is powerful to begin with, and Baron’s ear for contemporary speech and director Hallie Gordon’s seamless integration of multiple stories combine to make this production of Eat . . . into an experience best described as “Tear Your Heart Out.” While these characters are all privileged and would be easy to dismiss as suffering from “First World Problems,” they are so fully embodied by their actors that we don’t even think about that til the piece—running at a breakneck 95 intermission-free minutes—is over.

First among equals in the cast is Keberlein, who uses her icy blonde beauty to convey Nance’s hard exterior while face, voice and carriage reveal her vulnerability. Joy could not look less like her—which is the whole point—but renders pitch-perfectly Evie’s adolescent version of the same mix of emotions. By the time the evening ended with Evie’s repeating over and over, “I just really need my mom,” I felt exactly the same way.

The production’s only weakness is its set design, which uses several door frames to delineate four playing areas on the tiny Rivendell stage. The audience is obliged to crane necks around these obstacles, and though I understand the idea—life is full of barriers to seeing one another clearly—it’s one that isn’t particularly well-served by preventing the audience from seeing these exceptionally fine performers.

Eat Your Heart Out runs through the end of June at Rivendell, on Ridge Avenue just north of Hollywood in Edgewater.