Review: Woman in Mind (Eclipse Theatre)

| April 15, 2013
Sally Eames, Ted Hoerl and Larry Baldacci star in Eclipse Theatre's "Woman in Mind" by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Steve Scott. (photo credit: Scott Cooper)        
       
Woman in Mind 

Written by Sir Alan Ayckbourn 
Directed by Steve Scott
at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru May 19  |  tickets: $28   |  more info 
       
Half-price tickets available here 
    
        
        Read entire review
     


     
       

Bizarre and brilliant

     

James Houton, Sally Eames, Jess Berry, Jack Miggins and Phil Higgins star in Eclipse Theatre's "Woman in Mind" by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Steve Scott. (photo credit: Scott Cooper)

    
Eclipse Theatre presents
    
Woman in Mind

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Last summer, Eclipse Theatre Company saved my sanity. I reviewed their production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness! four days after receiving devastating news. It was at once light and intelligent, and nobody died: just what I needed. Eclipse is the only Midwestern company to focus on one playwright each season, and 2013 is the year of British comic poet Sir Alan Ayckbourn. Season opener Woman in Mind is the most challenging of genres – dark comedy – and once again Eclipse made me laugh, and made me think.

Susan (Sally Eames) is tending to her garden like a good housewife when a rake to the head turns everything topsy-turvy. Her handsome husband (James Houton), rakish brother (Phil Higgins) and charming daughter (Jess Berry) attend to her with champagne and affection – yet her doctor (Larry Baldacci) has no idea who these people are. Susan’s real life is considerably more depressing than her cheerful hallucinations, with a bumbling minister spouse (Ted Hoerl), daffy sister-in-law (Jeannie Affelder) and estranged son (Jack Miggins). But what happens when fantasy and reality collide? Will Susan soldier on through a boring, frustrating existence or submit to the fantasy she never knew she had until that fateful blow?

Ayckbourn’s text is tightly paced, verbally sharp and mentally provocative. Woman in Mind is a masterful blend of talk and action, and of fluffy dreams and dull routines. Dark comedy is an extremely subtle, difficult art – many have tried, and few accomplish. Woman in Mind could be subtitled, “This is How You Do It.” The role of Susan is an actress’ dream: venting her frustrating while slugging wine one moment, rolling around in mad ecstasy the next. It’s her show, but each of the supporting characters have quirks that are distinctive without being obnoxious. Even the utopian bubbly-swilling family is nuttier than it first appears.

Woman in Mind’s production team makes the smart choice to keep effects simple and let the story shine. Chris Corwin’s set is a rolling carpet of bright green Astroturf, a small trellis and a wooden shed – spare, yet symbolic. John Kelly’s lighting contrasts between stark and warm, and (though it’s a bit overblown at times) Toy Delorio’s sound recalls the gravity of Susan’s mental decline, lest we forget in our laughter.

Eclipse attracts some of Chicago’s best and brightest, with a bevy of guest artists and ensemble member Eames at the helm. Her Susan is a showstopper – equal parts angst and anger, with an Emma Thompson-esque lilt. Hoerl and Affelder provide comic relief as befuddled siblings, and Baldacci has some sweet, wistful moments as Susan’s good-hearted physician. Berry is chirpy and gorgeous, everyone’s fantasy child, while Miggins is a realistic slacker. Houton and Higgins are perfectly preppy, wielding champagne flutes and hunting weapons with aplomb, while never missing a barb or a beat.

Sir Alan Ayckbourn is highly acclaimed (as a director as well as a writer), prolific – and still kicking. He’s a stellar choice for a season, and Woman in Mind is a strong opener for Eclipse. Here’s hoping their next work – Bedroom Farce, opening July 25 – will be just as entertaining and challenging. In terms of good theater, that’s always what I need.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Woman in Mind continues through May 19th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $28, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at EclipseTheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)

Larry Baldacci and Sally Eames star in Eclipse Theatre's "Woman in Mind" by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Steve Scott. (photo credit: Scott Cooper)

Photos by Scott Cooper


     

artists

cast

Sally Eames (Susan), Jeannie Affelder (Muriel), Larry Baldacci (Bill), Jess Berry (Lucy), Phil Higgins (Tony), Ted Hoerl (Gerald), James Houton (Andy), Jack Miggins (Rick)

behind the scenes

Steve Scott (director), Chris Corwin (set), Susanne Hufnagel (stage manager), Sarah Moeller, Katie Vandehey (dramaturgs), JP Pierson (casting), Kevin Scott, Nathaniel Swift (co-producers), TayLar (asst. director), Lindsay Bartlett (dialect coach), Angie Campos (props design), Toy DeIorio (set design), Kathleen Dickinson (asst. stage manager), John Kelly (lighting), Rachel Lambert (costumes), Scott Cooper (photos), Thunder Lab (video)

James Houton, Larry Baldacci, Sally Eames, Ted Hoerl and Jeannie Affelder star in Eclipse Theatre's "Woman in Mind" by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Steve Scott. (photo credit: Scott Cooper)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Athenauem, Eclipse Theatre Company, Lauren Whalen, Video

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