When it comes to “storefront” productions, I am always impressed with what they turn out at Redtwist Theatre: that “little black box where white hot drama is presented with a little red twist”, on Bryn Mawr Avenue. They redo the theater with each production so one never knows how the seats will lay out or even where the stage will be. In many shows, we, the audience line the walls and in others we face other audience members, in this very intimate space. Their current production, a World Premier, “Geezers” written by Tommy Lee Johnston takes place in an assisted living facility in a major city. In entering the theater from their tiny lobby, we walk through a hall and the social/activity room of the “home” on our way to the seating area. This truly gets you into the feeling of where you are fo r the next 2 hours and 25 minutes (there is an intermission for meter feeding as well as other needs).
Directed by Jan Ellen Graves who has skillfully cast this play of characters on a set that is sheer perfection by Eric Luchen, we do get the feeling that we are the proverbial “fly on the wall” for this look at growth, wisdom, aging, identity and strength among its characters, young and old. At the very start, we meet a young man, Jack (a marvelous performance by Aaron Kirby, who is making his mark in our theater community) who has been hired to observe the residents of the center. As we find out, his “late” mother had been an employee there and her boss had designated that Jack get a job there. He has no people skills and at age 27 seems to be a little boy. His supervisor, Gina (deftly handled by the always reliable Jacqueline Grandt), tries to take him under her wing, and then we meet the people he is to watch: Ray (Bruce Cronander), a widower who enjoys his pillow and his naps, Emily solidly played by Kathleen Ruhl), a tv addict who appears to live in a world of her own, yet seems to know more than one would think, and Kate (richly played by Donna Steele), the actress who has had seven husbands and appears to be the number one resident. Last, but certainly not least, Neil (another solid performance by regular Brian Parry) who is about as normal as an older person can be.
These are the main characters that Jack has to deal with. When they find out that he is a writer of sorts, they convince him that instead of writing plays that are indeed copies of ones already written, he might want to write their stories, he agrees to do his interviews and put them to paper. The interviews are unique and open one’s mind to why each of these people might be why they are and what they are. In these stories, we also have the images that Jack creates as he transposes his notes of the day to the actual narrative he is writing. These are clever little snippets with actors playing the younger version of each of the main characters. There are three very strong portrayals here: The very sexy Julie Dahlinger as young Kate, the powerful Caleb Fortune as young Neil and the very realistic Michael Bartz as young Ray. Although we do not get into the younger version of Emily, we do get what might be her past from a young woman, Jenny (another solid performance by regular Debra Rodkin), who just might be Emily’s daughter that was given up for adoption.
There are very real stories contained in this production. Stories that will bring a tear to your eye and times, as well as a smile to your face at other times. The experience of Jack’s new job is one of glee as we watch him transform before our very eyes from a scared little lost boy to a man who has special skills. The ability to listen (and hear) is a pure talent. One that most people never really get. Jack’s ability brings him to new levels and maturity. The play shows us all that we need to look at things in a different way than we do now. We all have a “comfort zone” and seem to find safety in it. But what happens when we take a step out of this zone and see the difference? We grow! We experiment! We find success!
It may be that this is exactly what Johnston was thinking when he took to writing this particular play, or perhaps, as a youngster, he was in a position that was similar to that of Jack. Does it matter why he wrote this play? No! It is just great that he did. And I for one applaud those who made this production possible. In addition to the director , the cast and the set designer, I tip my hat to David Federman for the lighting, Sarah Jo White for her costumes, Morgan Lake for the sound and Robert Eric Shoemaker for his great props. As one who is nearing “Geezer” status myself, I think that anyone who is in this age range will certainly feel as I did and younger people might just see what is ahead for them and their parents. There are many little twists and turns in this glorious production. I won’t spoil it for you – go see it. There are only about 50 seats, so so not wait!
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $30-$35 ( students and seniors , less $5) and can be purchased by calling 773-728-7520 or online at www.redtwist.org
The theater is located at 1044 West Bryn Mawr, just a few hundred yards from the Bryn Mawr Red Line station. Lots of dining spots on the street and coffee shops as well.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Geezers”