This is one of the times where I find it difficult to do a review using my own rating system. The new play at Victory Gardens, “Rest”, is in my opinion weak in the script, but with some potential and some marvelous acting, but Samuel D. Hunter’s premiere needs to be looked at as a one act 90 minute play instead of the two hours that this production takes. “Rest” is one of the current “nursing home” type of plays in town. In this case, we are in Idaho. We are in a fairly nice looking nursing home (a terrific set by Chelsea Warren) that is being closed by its new owners. There are three patients left;Gerald (William J. Norris) and his wife Etta ( a standout performance by one of Chicago’s best character actresses, Mary Ann Thebus, who deserves two more stars) and Tom( deftly handled by Ernest Perry Jr.). They are packing up,preparing to leave. There are a few employees remaining as well. The administrator,Jeremy (Steve Key), Nurses,Ginny (McKenzie Chinn) and Faye (Amanda Drinkall) and a young man who has been sent as a temp to replace the cook, Ken (Matt Farabee). Ken is a born again Christian who adds a little disbelief to the situation as one wonder why he would be hired to cook for people on special diets, when he has three days of Taco Bell as his resume.
In fact, there are many aspects of this play that I found disturbing. I asked several audience members, after the show, just this play was about. I heard many different ideas and since I would not want to give away any of the little parts of the story that unfold, all I will say is that I found this to be a play about nothing! Almost like a Seinfeld episode, with our administrator being “George” (when he speaks about finding a new job, he says he would like to be an architect or perhaps get a job at Macy’s)- What the heck is this about ? During the course of the play, we find ourselves in a blizzard, probably the worst ever and things happen that are alarming. We learn that Ginny is unable to have a baby and that her best friend Faye is having one for her ( or is she?). While they speak about being high school friends, they appear to be of different ages, losing some credibility.
Joanie Schultz does a smooth job of direction and moving the story along, but the story is not solid enough to make sense to Chicago’s sophisticated theater audiences and surely not up to the standards that we have learned to love from Victory Gardens over these 40 years. There is a very touching moment in the final scene that may have been what Hunter was really writing about. This scene between Thebus and Norris illustrates how people should respect those that they care about and or love. Aging is a process that affects us all. In our parents, our grandparents and as we age, ourselves and our loved ones. As we age, our minds begin to fade and our bodily functions can be less than we want. In Hunter’s story, one of the residents is missing during the storm, and each character begins to face their own mortality. This is pretty standard in a play such as this, but as I said earlier, the final scene between Thebus and Norris is really where it is!
The technical aspects of the show are well done with the exception of a portion of act two where the stage is almost in total darkness after the home has lost its power. I would think that we, as an audience would be able to imagine the lights are out as we watch the actors on stage. Not seeing anything, in total darkness, caused some of the audience members to lose focus and I saw one doze off. Not a good sign! The sound (Thomas Dixon), costumes (Janice Pytel),props (Kenton Jones) and lighting (Lee Keenan)other than the aforementioned scene ,all added to the overall production value. Again, the production is not the key, it is the script that brought this down to a two star.
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.(October 1- at 2 p.m. instead)
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (except 10/9)
Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $20-$60 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org
ASL Interpreted October 10th
Audio Described October 3rd /7:30 and October 12th at 3 p.m.
Open Captioning Oct.1st at 2 p.m. and 10/11 at 4 p.m.
Special events that go with this production are available and each performance will be followed by AFTERWORDS, a post show conversation to discuss the topic involved.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Rest”.