Friday November 24th 2017

“Purple Heart”

Over the years, Chicago audiences have enjoyed the many plays written by  Bruce Norris, who has the knack of taking a real life situation and adding some comic touches along with some hidden mysterious features that keep an audience in a spellbound state for most of the play. In the work that is being put on at our little storefront black box on Bryn Mawr, the gem known as redtwist theatre, you can now see his “Purple Heart”, a story about a dysfunctional family ( many of today’s plays seem to have this theme, of late). Carla ( the strong KC Karen Hill) who has recently lost her husband to  war, her son,Thor ( played to perfection by Nicky Roget-King, who may be just a little older than his character) and her mother-in-law,Grace ( played to perfection by Kathleen Ruhl)  Grace is a church going woman who only sees the good in people, but tends to mistrust everyone else in the story. As anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows, each of us tend to find our own ways of dealing with the pressures put upon us.

Carla, who has an unhappy life prior to the sudden death of her husband learns a great deal more about him when she goes to claim the body. During the years he was away, she had turned to vodka as her best friend and it seems her stressful lonely and bitter life has caused her some unknown medical problems. Grace, meanwhile is of the opinion that Carla has become a loose woman due to her drinking problems and young Theo, is a lost soul nerd who relies on tricks and gags to get by. One can see that there is no apparent love in this household, until one day, a mystery man appears. During all this mourning and many visitors, Carla and her mother-in-law assume that , since he is in full military dress, he must have been a friend, but as we find out, this man of mystery,Purdy ( deftly handled by Clay Anderson) has his own secrets and desires. There are many ups and downs in this  2 hour black comedy that deals with relationship, love and hate, so I will not divulge the transitions that we see in Carla’s Topsy- turvey existence.

Directed by Jimmy McDermott, who knows how to use the intimate stage of redtwist , this is a finely tuned production in a much smaller space then the original Chicago Production at Steppenwolf a little over 10 years ago. It may have sme stronger ties for audience members due to the constant battles going on in the Middle-East and the many woman who have had to deal with a similar situation. redtwist is very fortunate to have had Mr. Norris grant them the rights to do this rarely done script, and in my opinion, they deserved to have this opportunity. Redtwist is one of the original storefront theaters in Chicago so when you see a production on their stage ( which by the way , is different for each production) you have the feeling that you are that “fly on the wall” we so often hear about. A 40 something seat theater where in this case the audience sits on two sides of the stage peering into the home and lives of the play’s characters, it is the mission of redtwist to  “do white hot drama, in a tiny black box, with a little red twist”. They always seem to nail this!

It is difficult to do much in the way of a set in this tiny venue, but Dennis Mae brings this living room/dining area ( where the action takes place) to life with just the right touch for a 1972 Midwestern home. Christopher Burpee’s lighting and Christopher Kriz’ sound as well as the costumes by Rachel S. Parent along with the smart array of props by Jeff Shields are the icing on the cake for making this a solid production. It is a little “talky” at the onset, but as we get to know these characters and learn more about their lives ( if one can call them lives over existence), the story makes more sense and “grabs” us! You will see, in these characters, people you know, love or even hate, but of greater importance, Norris has created a story that will have you talking to others. You will want to understand the mental anguish of these people and the searches that they have to find the ingredients of their lives that they feel are missing.

“Purple Heart” will continue through January 27th at redtwist theatre located at 1044 W. Bryn Mawr with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range in price from  $25-$30 ( $5 off for seniors and students) and can be reserved by calling 773-728-7529 or online at

To check out what is next at this magical theater , visit

Just so you know, parking at this theater is not easy, but some of the fine dining establishments do have valet parking ( I saw some at $8, which may end up less than the meter boxes on the street), but the CTA is still the best. The Red line stop is about a block west of the theater.


To see what others are saying, visit go to review round-up and click on at “Purple Heart”


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