Lonliness is something that many people have to deal with as they age and their loved ones and friends pass on. In Bruce Graham’s World premiere ( now on the atge at Northlight Theatre in Skokie) we get a glimpse into the lives of two people, “Stella & Lou” as they explore their own friendship and lives that have led them to “this place and time”. Set in a bar, Lou’s Bar ( a great set by Brian Sidney Bembridge), we meet our main characters on a day that has taken its toll on Lou. Lou, the barkeep is played by one of Chicago’s favorite actors Francis Guinan, who is always perfect in every way). One of his patrons, “Riley” has passed away and this was the day of the funeral. As it turns out, “Riley” was a loner, his only friends ( if one can call them that) the other bar customers who spent each night on their stool or chair and drank the night away while watching a ball game. “Riley” loved baseball! As I said, this is a story about “lonely” people and I would imagine that those who frequent their local tavern, seven days a wekk, are for the most part, just that. They have a short period of companionship during their “tavern hours” but very little in their lives. And what does the barkeep know of them? Only what they choose to reveal!
The play begins with Donny ( young Ed Flynn, who brings in some comic relief and adds to the storyline in a small way) who is also a regular at Lou’s, is making a speech at the funeral and yet, he knows very little about “Riley”. The full ights then come up to bring out Lou who is closing down for the night, leaving “Riley’s” chair against the table as a memorial and discussing Donny’s future wedding plans, when Stella ( the amazing Rhea Perlman, who as most know is very comfortable in a tavern setting after all those “Cheers” years. Stella is a nurse, who frequents Lou’s on a fairly regular basis, has her one beer and then goes home. She has just come back from Florida where she visited her daughter and grandchild.
As the two, along with some Donny dialogue, spend time together, we begin to learn more about Lou’s life an dthe death of his wife ( just two years prior) and Stella’s early years of having tow kids and a husband who left them. Both Stella and Lou are somewhat stuck in their lives and Stella, after spending time with her granddaughter, realizes that it is indeed time for a change, so she embarks on her challenge- to get Lou, who is still mourning the death of his wife, out of the bar and into a new life. Most of the ninety minutes of this play is a deep character study on individual personalities who need that one nudge to change and alter the lifestyles they have existed in. Stella realizes this and a sit turns out, was the caregiver/nurse for Lou’s wife and made a promise to her prior to her death. Stella has feelings for Lou and deep down, Lou is starting to see that his life is empty. Perhaps it wa sthe death of “Riley” and the follow-up of tryig to reach out to his daughter ( a daughter who never knew her father and could care less about his death) that made him see that being alone is not the way to be.
Each of these individuals needs to have someone and it is Stella who realizes it first,. Lou is set in his ways and no matter what Stella says or does, he is set in his life, until somewhere along the way, the right buttones or words make him think just a little bit more. I will not reveal the ending, but it is both heartwarming and realistic. Directed by BJ Jones, this production allows the audience to see into the eyes and souls of each character. The original story was written without Donny and for a different media and I for one, am thankful that Graham wa sturned down for a movie and went back to the story as a play- it is powerful, realistic and entertaining. There are many comic moments , and three excellent actors who make each character appear to be someone you know ( or knew). As we get older, we look at those around us at our “hangouts”- perhaps it is the breakfats spot you go to for your morning coffee, with the same people at the counter each day, or the local bar where you stop for that drink before going home, but if you have no family, why go home? Why not sit and watch a ball game or the CNN news at the counter or talk about what the newspaper says that day. There are a great number of real people in this very situation, and yet, how many will take the iniative to try and change that lifestyle, not just for themselves, but for one of the others who are stuck in the “same place”?
This is a beautiful story, well written, well directed , with great technical staff creating all the imagry that makes this as solid as it is ( Lighting by JR Lerle, Sound by Andrew Hansen and costumes by Rachel Laritz) ther eis no mention of the props person, but whoever they are, bravo!, and of course, the actors who are delights to watch for each second of the ninety minutes ( no intermission, which make sthis show even better). Northlight has another winner which you can catch through June 9th at Northlight Theatre located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard ( just south of Old Orchard Shopping Center) with performances as follows:
Tuesdays 7:30 p.m. ( except 5/21 and 6/4)
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 P.M. AND 8 P.M.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and on May 26th and June 2nd at 7 p.m. as well
Tickets range from $25-$72 ( there are no bad seats at Northlight) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-673-6300 or online at www.northlight.org
Plenty of free parking
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Stella & lou”