Somewhat Recommended ** There is a new theater company in town! Cole Theatre, who is presenting their first production in the very intimate space at A Red Orchid Theatre on Wells Street. The name of this play sparked my interest, “Ecstasy” written by Mike Leigh. Knowing the type of high quality we get from the A Red Orchid Ensemble and the space, I assumed that this would be their type of show. perhaps it could be, but when a play involves accents, even in a small space, it is often difficult to get all the words. When that happens, we often lose the story along with the words.
The story is that of the underdog’s journey to get to a better place, or so we are told in the press release. The characters are middle to lower class people who are supposed to be finding their own type of “Victory” as they supposedly learn how to see “Victory” in a different way! “Victory” is not all about money, a bigger or better home or job, the children you opt to have, or not , but instead finding one’s happiness in their own way. This is what Leigh’s saga is all about.
I for one, did not see all that he wrote on the well designed set by Grant Sabin. This is a small room in a poorer neighborhood where Jean ( Maura Kidwell, who is a shining light in what otherwise os a dismal story) resides. As the lights come up for the first scene, our eyes are brought to see two naked bodies on the bed. These are Ms Kidwell and her lover of the night Mick (Joel Reitsma). They do get dressed and they smoke many a “fag”/cigarette and drink whatever is in a bottle. In fact, throughout the two acts of the play, there must be fifty bottles of something emptied and a great number of fake cigarettes started. I suppose this is to to give us the feeling that if you are a middle or lower class person in London, you must drink and smoke when you are not either working or having sex.
Dawn (cleverly portrayed by Michaela Petro, who is both cute and spunky) is probably Jean’s best friend. Her husband Mick ( deftly handled by Boyd Harris) and an old school chum are the key players in the second act as they work the evening into a drunken stupor. Len ( a comical performance by Layne Manzer) is smitten with Jean, and evidently has been since school days. This evening, as it turns out for him, is the actual statement of what the playwright was trying to get to the audience. He kind of finds what he is looking for. The other performer in this show is only in the first act, and only for a short period of time- Lauren Pizzi plays Val, who we learn later is the wife of the man who spent the night with Jean and who confronts them with a violent scene.. This play is far too long. Act one forty minutes and after a 15 minute intermission, act two at 85 minutes.
Director Shade Murray might have considered cutting out some of the drinking and smoking in order to shave off some time. Not only that , but with all the stops to light each others smokes, the audience got lost in the haze. I will say that the props people did a magnificent job (Allison Raynes) and the lighting was terrific (Rachel K. Levy) but there was a blackout in act two that did not seem to meet the story line at the time.
I am not sure if this was the best selection for a new company to make for their first. It is weak in story despite having some solid actors. Again, why do we have to have this story be in England? Why do they need to have thick accents? There are many places in the world that can be used to demonstrate lower economic status and reaching for a better life. Even then, the play does not get to the actual point of what it is supposed to and if Cole Theatre continues to keep “Victory of the people” as its theme, they better find scripts that really show this.
You can judge for yourself. “Ecstasy” will continue at A Ref Orchid Theatre located at 1511 N. Wells Street through September 28th with performances as follows:
Tickets range from $15-$25 (open seating) and are available by calling 773- 747-6821 or online at www.coletheatre.org
By the way, on the website it states that free parking is available on Wells- ooops! Metered paring is available on Wells. There is some free parking on LaSalle Street and several blocks North of the theater. Buses are easy to use.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Ecstasy”