Saturday February 24th 2018

“For The Loyal” reviewed by Jeffrey Leibham

RECOMMENDED***              Lee Blessing’s play “For the Loyal” was completed in 2015, several years before the #MeToo Movement began.  But the piece, receiving its Chicago premiere as part of Interrobang Theatre Project’s RAW Series, in which plays are stripped of their classic stage elements so that the emphasis is put upon the script itself, could not be more timely or welcomed as a viable springboard to initiate discussion.  Interrobang Co-Artistic Directors Georgette Verdin and James Yost have made a bold and emphatic choice in bringing Blessing’s well-constructed and intriguing work to Chicago audiences.  3 SPOTLIGHTS

Yost, who also directed, was supported by assistant director Hannah Wolff. They both have done a wonderful job with this ensemble of five actors (four males and one female) and one assumes that Wolff contributed her own unique perspective to this testosterone-heavy subject matter which was inspired by the Jerry Sandusky and Penn State sexual abuse scandal.

Toby (Matthew Nerber) is an ambitious young assistant coach for a college football team at a large Division I school. He is married to Mia (Sarah Gise) who is seven months pregnant with their first child. Not wanting to alarm his wife, he is keeping a dark secret from her. Mia can tell that something is wrong with Toby and implores that she tell him the truth. Toby reluctantly confesses that he went to the head coach’s home and may have caught him in a compromising position. It seems that Coach Carlson (Rob Frankel) was entertaining a young boy (Richard David) in a parked car in his garage. The boy was naked and Carlson was supplying him with plenty of beer. Toby wants to keep that information private until he can figure out how to proceed, even refusing to share it with his best friend and fellow coaching assistant Hale (Josh Zagoren, who also plays an unnamed police detective as well as a correctional officer). When Coach Carlson happens to come over to Toby and Mia’s home to pick Toby up for a meeting, Mia confronts Carlson with the ugly details. What Mia does next, what action she does or does not take, sends “For the Loyal” into its glorious, nebulous overdrive. No spoiler alerts here. Let’s just say that parallel universes, alternating realities, supposed apparitions and non-linear chronology combine to create a fascinating work of theatre in an almost pragmatic approach to this disturbing material. Blessing presents lots of questions with no real solutions (those are for you to formulate). Yet each character has viable motivations and they justify their hostilities in a way that is distinctly honest for each of them.

Rob Frankel has the thankless and challenging job of playing a monster, Coach Carlson. Frankel adds just the right slick touch to the deviant sexual predator. He is smarmy but striving for a sympathetic vindication. When confronted by the evidence that Mia presents to him, Frankel incorporates a subtle nervous tic that speaks volumes about a man so deeply lost in his mental illness that he can explain away his transgressions and sees no harm in his repeated acts of endangering the welfare of children. Richard David is truly marvelous as the boy, never playing him as a victim but as a strong and confident young man who always had and will continue to have the upper hand. David plays three different boys throughout the course of the play and makes each one markedly different and distinctive. Sarah Gise, whose Mia is the moral center of this play, is very strong and convincing in her internal struggle and strife. She wants her husband to advance in the highly competitive university system but is deeply conflicted on just what route they will take to get there. The expression on Gise’s face at the conclusion, as she stands alone downstage, is a mix of the optimistic hope of possibility for the future as well as the dread of what the world will be like for the unborn child in her womb.

Please don’t dismiss this play due to the fact that it deals with indecent assault or the corruption of minors. Blessing’s work here craves discussion. See it with people who are open to the challenge and enjoy a good debate afterwards. How else will you be able to know where your loyalties lie?

Interrobang Theatre Project’s “For the Loyal” runs through February 4th at The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1), 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. Paid parking is available in the parking lot on Oakdale Street, behind St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, or in a second parking lot on the corner of Southport and Oakdale.  Street parking is also available.

Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm

Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm

Sundays at 2:00 pm.

Tickets are $32 ($17 for students).  FYI  (773) 935-6875 or www.interrobangtheatre.org.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “For The Loyal”

 

 

 

 

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