Highly Recommended **** The days of Chicago being controlled by the Irish are long gone, but when it comes to theater, we seem to attract as many writers as they do in Ireland itself! One of my favorite little theater companies, A Red Orchid, a very intimate space located in the heart of “Old Town”, is now presenting the U.S. Premiere of “Strandline” a chilling little tale written by Abbie Spallen and solidly directed by JR Sullivan ( who truly understands the space at Red Orchid and how to use it to its best advantage).
While this is a chilling drama, it is filled iwth comic moments and who better to make us laugh then Natalie West (many people still recall her years as Roseanne Barr’s best friend on “Roseanne”) who brings something special to every role and who over the years has been a sparkplug for the theater company. But it is the entire cast of women who truly bring these words to us in a way that allows us to hear clearly (despite the brogues) what it is that Spallen is telling us. The young man who plays the only male that is seen in the play, John Francis Babbo is an amazing talent who with his small frame appears much younger than he is, but with his large than life talent captures the spirit of his character, Sweeney.
The story is about a small Irish coastal village where artist Mairin (incredibly played by Kirsten Fitzgerald) is mourning her dearly departed husband. Her friends,Eileen West), Clodagh ( a powerful performance by Dado) and young Triona (Meg Warner) all have reasons to be there in addition to helping their friend deal with her loss, but as the story unfolds, we learn a great deal more about each woman and her possible relationship with the others and or Mairin’s husband. We also learn more about this young lad, Sweeney, who supposedly was abandoned by his mother and has been left to his own survival ( or has he?).
When the play opens, there is some confusion as to exactly what is taking place. Ms West is very drunk ( or should I say her character is) and to make her appear even more so, they have put her in shoes that are difficult to walk in when sober, on solid ground. She is wearing there platforms on a rocky crag and stumbling like crazy- bad shoes or drunk? We later learn that Eileen is in fact a drinker. Each lady has a tale to tell as does young Sweeney and as the two hour play unveils the sub stories, we get to learn all of the sordid details of the history of these people. Well done!
We all know that there are scandals in all types of cities and towns, and some are never found out. We learn a great deal about these ladies and their lives and the connections are much more that we might have expected. With slick direction, a cast that truly understands the story line and the characters, solid technical people (Harry Feiner /set, Mike Durst/lighting, Arianna Soloway/props, Christine Pascual/costumes and Joe Court/sound , Chicago audiences are lucky to have the true” Irish Experience” at A Red Orchid Theatre, but only through December 7th.
Performances at A Red Orchid located at 1531 N. Wells Street are as follows:
Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8 p.m. ( not on 11/8)
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $30-$35 and can be reserved by calling 312-943-8722 or online at www.aredorchidtheatre.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Strandlne”