Recommended *** I often talk about our “storefront theaters” in the Greater Chicago market, and my fondness for the work they bring to audiences. One of my favorite “little” theatres is the 16th Street in Berwyn, just west of the city. Ann Filmer has led the way in making this venue a major one for solid story telling, bringing us many premieres in a 49 seat theater located in the lower level (nice phrase for basement) of the North Berwyn Park District building located at 6420 West 16th Street. It has been an amazing journey for Ann and her able staff.
Their current production is the World Premiere of “MerChild” written by Aline Lathrop, their playwright in residence for 2015. The story is one that will make you take notice as it deals with a family that is facing their youngest child having a gender identity crisis. With all of the headlines of late due to Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn and his/her bringing this matter to the world. Smoothly directed by Ms Filmer, on this tiny stage, with a solid cast of actors, I found the play itself flawed in many ways. I was confused as to where we were. In the center of the small stage was a large rock formation that was also near Lake Michigan shores, which we are led to believe is very near their home. As the lights come up we see a young man dressed as Ariel ( from the Disney version of “The Little Mermaid”). This is Adam ( a sparkling portrayal by Peyton Shaffer). We also meet a Prince (Will Crouse, who also plays a teen-ager, Eric, boyfriend of Adam’s sister Rhea (capably played by Stella Martin). We then start to get into the lives of this family.
Terra ( a powerful performance by Lia D. Mortensen) is the mother who is successful and loving. Her husband Clay (deftly handled by Malcolm Callan) is a would be writer who works at the college for his wife. When they become aware that their son has a problem at school, they tend to shrug it off at first. Turns out Adam only is friendly to the girls and avoids boys completely. When some older boys try to drown him and he is saved by Eric and a police officer (Ed Dzialo. who also plays many other roles, and does so with great differences) Clay and Terra come to the realization that they must get involved with their son and his choices.
The story continues into the inner thoughts of the adults and the child and their search for cures to their ills. The question is, is it possible that there are pre-determined genes that do cause this to happen? Is it possible that there can be genes that allow for the physical parts of a person to be different from the mental part. Lately, we have read a great deal about the topic and have seen more and more openness about transgendered people. This is a story about an 8 year old and it seems that is very young. Lathrop digs deep into the mindset of this family that is being torn apart by their situation. The mother loves the son and wants him to be happy. The father in one scene teaches his son how to be “gay” (at 8 ?).
While I found the acting to be superb, and the lighting ( Cat Wilson) and sound (Barry Bennett who also did the music, which was very special) very fitting, I found the set (Joanna Iwanicka) a bit much, but realize that the small stage made this almost impossible to pull off. They did build walls but because they were open at the bottom, I found that the walking behind those walls became confusing to the action. The action is one hour and forty five minutes, two acts with a 15 minute intermission. This play might have been better off as 100 minutes straight through with no break in the action. It could work better without a break. I will not tell you how the story ends. except to let you know that it is not as one might expect. Again, the production is a recommended, but the actors were definitely *****. FYI- The title refers at Ariel and the Mermaid that Adam wants to be. Yes, he is a “fish out of water”
Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are only $18 ( just a little more than the cost of a movie ticket for live theater) and can be reserved by calling 708-795-6704 or visit www.16thstreettheater.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Merchild”