Highly Recommended **** What happens to us when we face the end of our days? Some people tend to review their lives and see where they could have done more for others. Others look at their lives and feel that they were perfect. What happens to a person who feels that they have led a perfectly wonderful life, giving to their family and community, only to come to the realization that they have been living in what we might call a facade? This is a great deal of what playwright Stephen Belber has created in his “Don’t Do Gentle” now in its Chicago Premiere at Theater Wit on Belmont.
This is a wonderful production presented by Haven Theatre Company, a smaller troupe, but when you enter the theater and see the magnificent set (Jeffrey D. Kmeic) you will swear that you are at one of the larger budget theaters such as the Goodman or Steppenwolf- fantastic start to the production. The staging by director Cody Estle is smooth as silk as he uses every second of the 90 minutes (no intermission) perfectly.
Lawrence Drive (ably handled by Norm Woodel) is a retired Judge residing in this masterfully done house in Buffalo New York. He is dealing with cancer, being a widower and having a somewhat empty life and has decided to do some pro bono volunteer work in the system he knows best, the legal system as his way of seeking redemption during his waning years. At the start of the play we meet Tanya (powerfully played by Echaka Agba) an ex-con and her teen-age son Rasheed (deftly handled by Andrew Muwonge). Their lives have been complicated by Tanya’s internment in prison and Rasheed’s rebellion that arose from this. The retired Judge is seeking ways to assist this family as his way of easing the pain in his heart and mind for the way he led his life and raised his own children.
His children, Amelia (Robyn Coffin is sheer perfection as the daughter who was “just there” and has turned to drink as her way of dealing with her unfamiliar “family “life) and her brother Ben (a strong performance by Benjamin Sprunger), a sort of ‘loser”, has also been more of a burden to the Judge despite his alleged love for both. I will not tell you the outcome of what happens , but will let you know that the story gets stronger and stronger as it progresses and despite what you think is about to occur, Belber cleverly takes the twists and turns in a slightly different way just to take you off your guard.
The Judge means well, or so we are led to believe, and works hard to make his “client and her son” feel the love that is in the walls of the Driver Home. He allows them to take in residence , in their own rooms, where Tanya helps with cleaning and cooking while she also helps with his medical assistance (her previous position before prison was a nurse’s aid) and the Judge makes sure that Rasheed gets into a better school and gets a job. We see that this becomes a sort of family unit, but then the other shoe drops. I found the relationship between the driver family members to be very realistic for a dysfunctional family, and the relationship between the Judge and his “new Family” to be very real in a different way, with each person seeing what was happening in a different light, and in most cases not factual or real.
Again, not wanting to spoil the powerful story and its even more powerful ending, I will only tell you that this is a solid production that will hold your interest for the entire 90 minutes. The tech part of this production is as solid as the acting and direction; Sarah Hughey’s lighting, Chris LaPorte’s sound and music composition, Jamie Karas’ props and Carol Cohen’s costumes are the pieces that complete the picture as painted by Belber and Estle. This is a play that will make you think!
“Don’t Go Gentle” will continue at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont through July 12th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $28 with discounts for seniors and students. call 773-975-8150 to order yours or visit www.haventheatrechicago.com. This is in Theater 3 and seats are general seating- NO reserved seats.
Parking is available on Belmont and some of the cross streets, some metered, some not, watch the signs for Cubs games and night restrictions. You can also park at Cooper’s Restaurant where you can grab a drink or dinner as well (the pulled pork and brisket are great).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Don’t Go Gentle”