Taboo topic is provocative, disturbing
|Red Tape Theatre presents|
|The Gingerbread House|
Review by Katy Walsh
“What are you doing Friday night?” I use to respond excitedly with ‘Nothing! Why?’ Now, I force myself to evaluate the source of the inquiry. Friends with kids?! I’ve learned that what use to mean a fun outing sometimes translates to a babysitter request. I’ve trained myself to just ask ‘why?‘ “Kids won’t change my life!” I’ve heard that sentiment multiple times. I use to believe it. My experience dictates otherwise. It changes everything…forever.
Red Tape Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of The Gingerbread House. Brian and Stacy are married. They have two kids. Brian hates being a father. Stacy is tired of being of a mother. Brian brings in his friend Marco to convince Stacy to sell their kids. Marco makes a strong case that everybody will be more happy with the deal. Brian and Stacy will have their dream life and extra cash. The kids will live an intercontinental life in a mansion in Albania. And this rich couple with no children will have a family. It’s a win-win-win! Is it that easy to walk away from motherhood? Stacy is haunted by seller’s remorse. The Gingerbread House looks enchanting but has a disturbing aftertaste.
Playwright Mark Schulz goes there. He writes a premise that is taboo, parents selling their kids. The script has a “Faust”-like quality. The selling-your-soul-to-the-devil action spirals Stacy into madness. The subject is provocative. The dialogue disturbingly casual. The story goes a little long and ancillary characters seem unimportant to the core storyline. Scenes make the strong point…again and again. But under the direction of James Palmer, the talented love triangle is outstanding. Meghan Reardon (Stacy) goes to hell and back. Reardon is crazy good! Her soliloquies of letters from her son are heartbreaking. And her relationship with her husband is just gut-wrenching. Mike Tepeli (Brian) is a tool! Tepeli plays it perfectly self-absorbed. He rationalizes heinous acts with indignant arrogance. Nicholas Combs (Marco) is the devil incarnate. He is diabolically smarmy. Tepeli and Combs are just great at being horrible. This show is extra dark.
Palmer has chosen some whimsical elements to reinforce the children focus. The Carolina Chorus is a five girl singing group. All dressed identical. Their singing is beautiful. Their presence is really creepy. Scenic Designer Scott Davis and Projections Designer Mike Stanfill create this fairytale-like feel. Branches hang from the ceiling. Kaleidoscope imagery on the backdrops continue to transform. A forest morphs into a child’s silhouette. It’s powerful! The Gingerbread House lingers long after the last disconcerting morsel.
This show isn’t for everyone. The night I saw it, the woman next to me left during a pivotal end scene. She announced to her husband/boyfriend that she ‘needed air.‘ The Red Tape Theatre space is intimate and her abrupt departure was as disturbing as the play. She also had been drinking and whispering throughout the show. Lady, if you want the audience to be annoyed by your drama, audition for a part!
The Gingerbread House continues through March 3rd at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $15-$30, and are available in advance at BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at RedTapeTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, which includes one intermission)
All photos by Austin D Oie
behind the scenes
James D Palmer (director); Emily Guthrie* (props); Kyle Land* (lighting); Myah Shein* (choreography); Scott Davis (set design); Joseph Fosco (sound); Katie Gassel (chorus director); Mike Mroch (asst. director); Catherine Smyka (dramaturg); Mike Stanfill (projections); Jessica Korpela (costumes); Austin D Oie (photos)
* denotes Red Tape ensemble member