Dysfunctional families have been utilized in many a play, and “Maria/Stuart”, now in it’s Chicago premiere at Theater Wit, sure fits the bill. Written by Jason Grote, this is the story of three sisters and their relationship with each other and their mother.It is the mother’s birthday and they are all going to gather for a birthday dinner.In the very first scene we meet Stuart ( fiercely played by Nate Whelden) a young comic strip creator who lives with his mother, one of the sisters, Marnie ( Jennifer Joan Taylor). During the scene a woman enters, who speaks only German and tosses things around the kitchen ( a sparkling real set by Nick Sieben) that serves as well for sister Lizzie’s home as well. This women, it turns out is a character that is inhibited by many other cast members as well and is referred to as a “Changeling”. There are several definitions for a “Changeling”, but the one that seems to fit best is a European myth relative to a spirit being changed by the parents into another child-like person. Let’s go with that one.
There are many secrets in the history of this family. Supposedly, Stuart, as a child was sent a perfumed letter by Hannah ( deftly handled by Scottie Caldwell) , his cousin.and Stuart has guarded this letter for years. As it later turns out, she did not write this letter or in fact was she the first love of his life. I won’t divulge all of the details, but Grote took far to long to bring the family problems to light- this two plus hour play might have easily been condensed to a 90-100 minute tale without the intermission, and in my opinion would have worked better for the audience, many of whom I saw either squirming or even worse, dozing off. Hannah’s mother, Lizzie ( a solid performance by Mary Anne Bowman) .The other sister is Sylvia ( a wonderful character development by Ann James) who in her youth tried to kill herself by letting a train run over her. Oops- she backed out, but ended up losing her hands. I must say that watching Ms James work with the hooks was a piece of work, and she never missed a beat.
As it turns out Grandma ( the hysterical Susan Monts-Bologna, who steals almost every scene she is in) passes away and after her funeral, she also comes back as the “Changeling”. In fact, each member of the cast, except Aunt Sylvia gets a turn at being this character and doing the rant, and guzzling soda pop. Sylvia, who is considered crazy and resides at a home, has a quasi relationship with the Changeling getting messages by fax from time to time. This family is one that is filled with secrets and lies that become more exposed as the story goes on. Near the end of the second act, amidst a glorious food fight, they are given the opportunity to “fess up”. Do they take it? Would it really matter? You can judge for yourself.
I felt that the cast was highly energetic and the direction by Marti Lyons was slick, but that the script had some disconnections. Again, a bit of tightening could have made the flow stronger and the story easier to follow.Mac Vaughey’s lighting and Christopher Kriz’ sound were very efficient. Due to the number of props used and mis-used, I think a special tip-of-the-hat should be given to Peter Schmidt and the clean up crew did a masterful job of keeping the stage clear so the actors did not fall on their faces. The ending of the story is one that will leave you shaking your head. It is abrupt and leaves a number of questions unanswered. The title is a bit confusing as well- we know who Stuart is, but who the heck is Maria ( the “changeling”?).
“Maria/Stuarrt” will continue at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont Avenue through May 5th with performances as follows:
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Student,Senior and industry perfomances are discounted- check on dates available with box office or website.
This is a production by Sideshow Theatre Company, ayoung energetic ensemble, now in its 6th season. The “Mission Statement” says they desire to “mine the collective unconcious of the world we live in with limitless curiosity,drawing inspiration from the familiar stories,memories and images we all share to spark new conversation and bring audiences together as adveturers in a communal experience of exploration”
Tickets ( open seating) are $20-$25 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-975-8150 or www.sideshowtheatre.org
To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to Review Round-up and click at “Maria/Stuart”