Wednesday January 18th 2017

“Ghost Gardens”

ghost-gardens-7657Somewhat Recommended ** I enjoy watching the words of young playwrights go from page to stage, and for the most part, Chicago audiences have been very fortunate in the choices that our theater company has made with World Premieres. Pegasus Theatre of Chicago, whose motto is “where epic stories take flight” is bringing such a work to the stage at Chicago Dramatists, that cozy little venue with a Chicago Avenue address, but where you enter from the backside. The work is titled “Ghost Gardens” and the writer, Steven Simoncic, who many will recall from his “Broken fences” or “Heat Wave”.

While I have enjoyed his past works, I am not sure if this particular play is ready for audiences to see. The issues in this particular story are indeed relevant as we witness an area of Detroit, withered by the lack of work, the city itself falling apart and the people of the area no longer having the faith that they had in their earlier years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the play opens we meet Lorelie (powerfully played by Elizabeth Birnkrant) who is visiting the grave of her baby that died many years ago. It is her hope (which by the way was the baby’s name) that a new life will come to her and the faith and dreams of her youth will return. She has joined a local church, run by an African-American Preacher, who formerly was a Pimp, and upon being accepted announces to her new “black” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcongregation that she is with child.

With the excitement that follows, as we meet the congregants and her family, we are drawn into what appears to be new hope for all. The characters in this story are far from what one might expect in any local church. The preacher, known as Powder (Willie Goodson) is a pimp seeking redemption for all the sins of his early days. Lorelie’s best friend, Myra (the lovely Anna Maldonado) is a nurse, but was formerly a stripper and possibly even a call girl. Lorelie’s mother, Helen (deftly handled by Gilmary Doyle) and her husband Tryg (Chris Cinereski) are involved in her life, but it almost seems that Simoncic did not know what secrets could be shared with her family.

As the second act unfolds, we begin to reflect on the reality of our own lives. This is a story about going on with one’s life despite the set-backs that are thrown into life as roadblocks. Everyone has had them. Maybe only a few for some, but many for others. Lorelie evolves in her understanding of life and the cards she was dealt as the play draws to a close. The other members of this cast do not. Well, maybe the preacher feels that he has , and I think Myra always feels good about how she has handled her roadblocks. There is one other character in the story, Lonnie, a young ex-con that has been paroled into the custody of the Preacher. He does change, but in my opinion, needed just a bit more humility.

One might say that this play is about “community”, but not community as in neighborhood or government, but rather, a community of individuals, as different from one another as can be, developing a shared experience that leads to a more meaningful relationship for each and some growth in their individual understanding of their lives. Perhaps as this cast works together more, the development will get stronger.

The direction by Ilesa Duncan on a small stage allows us the intimacy of peering in at the lives of these people.The set (Sarah Lewis), lights (Claire Chrzan), sound (Mikey Moran) and costumes (Raquel Adorno) are nothing fancy as the story and the actors is where our focus needs to be, from start to finish. I will say that Mealah Heidenreich did a great job of assembling props, a job that is often neglected by companies and  sometimes not even getting mentioned in the credits. This play was developed by Chicago dramatists thru Russ Tutterow and I believe will be a much stronger one in the near future.

“Ghost Gardens” will continue at Chicago Dramatists located at 1105 W. Chicago Avenue (at Milwaukee, Chicago and Ogden Avenues) through May 31st with performances as follows:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $18- $30 and can be ordered by calling 866-811-4111 or online at www.PegasusTheatreChicago.org

Parking in the area is often hard to find and mostly metered. The Blue line station is right there, so it is recommended to use public transportation. There are lots of dining spots in the area, with D’Agostino’s right next door- great thin pizza.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Ghost Gardens”

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