If women playwrights are neglected nationally (and I have no doubt they are), they’re nonetheless making a strong showing on Chicago stages.
In A Word at Strawdog
Lauren Yee’s 85-minute world premiere throws us into the miserable world of Fiona and Guy (Mary Winn Heider and John Ferrick), a married couple whose child was kidnapped two years before. Fiona is still preoccupied—whether excessively or appropriately, depending on who you ask—with the details of the abduction and presumed death, while Guy is trying to move on. The son appears in flashback, portrayed by Gabe Franken, who also performs every other role including the kidnapper, the detective, the school principal and Guy’s best friend. To convey the stuck condition of the couple, especially Fiona, Yee uses staccato and repetition of words and phrases—“get what’s coming to them,” “difficult” as a euphemism for the most profound problems. The incantatory nature of the dialogue also illustrates the universal point that guilt and secrecy keep people stuck whereas the truth will—or at least, may—set them free. Jess McLeod’s clever staging turns the single set into the half-dozen locations the characters occupy. More important, her direction of the actors assures that we feel every incident as if it were happening to us. A slightly hopeful ending doesn’t keep the situation from being, well, difficult, but it’s also genuine and thoughtful and moving. Heider in particular is so good it’s hard to remember that she’s acting. In A Word closes March 19; don’t let it pass you by.
The Flick at Steppenwolf
Annie Baker won the Pulitzer, the Obie and the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwriting Prize for this slice of life set in a movie theater which has seen better days. It, too, has three main characters and it, too, explores the errors and betrayals which make intimacy so difficult. But there the resemblance ends, as Baker and director Dexter Bullard use 3 hours and 10 minutes to make their points. Bullard secures stunning performances from all concerned–Travis Turner as the college-age movie-lover turned theater janitor, Danny McCarthy as the old hand who trains him and Caroline Neff sometimes allied with one and sometimes with the other. Three is an inherently unstable number in relationships, and Baker captures this in scene after scene—after scene, after scene. The dialogue is wonderfully heard, and resonates as natural speech; but the fact that mopping up a movie theater is a Sisyphean task is clear long before Baker stops reminding us of it. Moreover, it appears she couldn’t think of an ending—or rather, she thought of one and then added several more just in case. The first act is completely absorbing and Jack Magaw’s scenic design is a thing of beauty: you sit down in your theater seat only to find yourself facing rows of theater seats. And the actors are impeccable–Neff’s wild hip-hop dance alone is worth the price of admission. At Steppenwolf through May 8.