Recommended *** It is rare that a young playwright has two plays running in our area at the same time. I am sure that over the years with as many theaters as we have in the Chicago area, that we have had a few Neil Simon and William Shakespeare productions running, but one would think that the name Luca Hnath would not be one in a similar situation. While his “Isaac’s Eye” is running up in Glencoe at Writers Theatre, his “Death Tax”, is now having its Chicago premiere at Lookingglass Theatre on Michigan Avenue. While these two theaters are very different in location and size, the one thing that both of these plays have in common is that they are “unfinished”. Having said this, let me explain what it means. Our sophisticated Chiacgo audiences expect a play to come to an end that has meaning and will at least satisfy our minds. Hnath just ends his stories when he feels the need to end.
You may ask- why is this play recommended if it is not complete? As this 80 minute (no intermission) story unfolds, Maxine is explaining to her nurse that she understands that her daughter is trying to murder her and that Maxine believes that Tina is her accomplice. We all know that older people, some with dementia, from time to time have fears that are unreal. In this case, Maxine has researched her nurse and knows that her status is one where money would be of great help. Tina expresses disbelief that Maxine would feel this way, but when she is offered a huge amount of money to keep Maxine alive until after the upcoming holidays and the new “Death tax” that goes into effect in the new year, Tina is swayed.
It turns out that she has a son who lives back in her home country and needs dollars to fight her ex to bring her son back to live with her. As the tale gets deeper, her supervisor, Todd (deftly handled by Raymond Fox) who cares about her and would do anything for her gets into the money trap that has been offered.He is not after the money, but feels that with his assitance Tine can be happy with what he can help her to get, her son, and then he will “get the girl”. Later, we meet the daughter (the lovely Louise Lamsom) who we learn is not after her mother’s money, only her love and her loyalty. She is in great need with an ex who sends her littlemoney and a son, who we later meet as an adult (played by Fox). Each character in this story has problems, that are in many ways self-inflicted. We have the lonely man, the weak woman with a nothing life, the strong woman who thinks everyone is after her money and the nurse who only wants to have “the best thing she ever created” with her.
During this character study we watch as each character reveals their fears and hopes and as the scenes pass us by, so do twenty years and now, Maxine’s money is gone, yet she is still in the very expensive nursing home. A social worker ( now payed by Brooks) is explaining that she can no longer remain in the home and that her options are running out. Perhaps her grandson will take her in or if not they can put her into another residence. Here is where we learn how hate can fester and fear can grow as each of our players looks at the choices. Maxine continues to mistrust those around her and her grandson feels that despite his success, the way his mother was treated in the past is a reflection on what he should do in the future- and then the play ends! We are left wondering if Henry ever comes back to save the day for his grandmother? If Maxine and her daughter ever re-unite? I would love to know how it turns out and why. As I said earlier, the acting is superb, the direction by Heide Stillman is unique and offers this black box viewer a great view into the story. The set is nothing to speak of as it is a black shiny floor with white lines and a few pieces of furniture This is an actors play with their work being the highlight. If you get a chance to see both works by Hnath you will be able to see his methodology and perhaps you can share your feelings with me.
“Death Tax” will continue at The Lookingglass Theatrre located at 621 N. Michigan Avenue (at Pearson) through October 12th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $40-$65 and are available at the box office, by phone at 312-337-0665 or online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org
Discount parking is available-check website for more information
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Death Tax”