It is not often that I will attend a production at A Red Orchid Theatre and not walk out feeling good about the experience. Tonight, as I watched the World Premiere of Ike Holter’s “Sender”, I wondered what I had just witnessed. I will tell you that there were some moments filled with laughter from the audience, but to be honest, the moments were not that funny. There are times when family and friends, on an opening, laugh because they are watching family and friends say and do things that are not in any way close to their normal lives. I believe much of tonight’s laughter was more this.
A Red Orchid is a small, intimate space , on Wells Street that has been bringing quality theater to Old Town since the early 1990’s. “Sender” is a short play (roughly 90 minutes with no intermission) that takes place in Chicago. Directed by Shade Murray on a cleverly designed set by Mike Durst, (who also did the lighting) we meet a young man, Lynx (well- played by Steve Haggard) who it appears has come back from the dead. His girlfriend Tess ( a strong performance by Mary Williamson) who has just celebrated the one year anniversary of this death is taken aback to find him at her apartment. It turns out that he had upped and disappeared to sort out his life, leaving behind all that cared about him. He is now back to fix what was wrong.
Their best friends, Cassie (McKenzie Chinn) and Jordan (deftly handled by Steven Wilson) have since married and are with child. Cassie must have a high- powered job as she appears to be the only one with money. Jordan is a nerdy type with a great love and admiration for Lynx. Once they all realize that Lynx is back, we watch the past catch up with the present and listen to the plans for the future between the group, sans Cassie, who is not included. Supposedly, this story is about love and loss as well as growing up. There is a great deal of challenge for the individuals in the story, alone and with each other. There is a great deal of F word usage, lots of hollering, some male nudity, lots of kissing and hugging and confusion for Jordan (and probably half the audience, many of whom had dozed off).Lots of shock value, but nothing to add to the storyline.
This story was confusing in many areas. Not wanting to give away any of the little sub-plots that Holter has woven into this saga of growing up, I will only tell you that it appears that the group was not as close as it appeared. Cassie is unique and into herself and her life more than that of her friends. The set is designed to give us three levels and areas. The roof of the building, a porch of the apartment building where Tess lives and her kitchen. They are fairly well and clearly defined, but there are scenes that end and then when the lights come back up, we are not sure of where we are. The props (Bronte DeShong) are amazing and Joe Fosco’s sound is very realistic. Kirsten Fitzgerald handles the fight choreography and when one has to do this on a stage this small, very close to the audience, it becomes much harder to make it look real. She did a solid job as did the actors in doing so.
In a story like this, it is key that we see the relationships, and I for one found a lot to be lacking. There was more between Lynx and Jordan than any of the others. Haggard and Wilson played well off each other. I never had the feeling that Tess truly cared about the love of her life, who she had mourned for a year, at all. I also found Cassie to be an odd person of the so-called friends. She appears to want full power over all the others; to be in total control, and yet, at the end, we see a very weak side that comes from out of nowhere.
“Sender” will continue at A Red Orchid Theatre located at 1531 N. Wells Street thru May 29th with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $30-$35 and can be ordered by calling 312-943-8722 or online at www.aredorchidtheatre.org
Parking is not easy, but there are spaces on the street (metered) and lots along Wells.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Sender”