Fierce solo performance overcomes world premiere’s faulty premise
|Greenhouse Theater presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
When we meet the woman whose country forms the title of Her America, she’s bleeding through a raggedy T-shirt and cowering under a rickety set of basement steps. As she rambles quasi-coherently about the vicious dogs that left her back bloodied, it’s unclear whether she’s a prisoner in this dank, murky room or if she’s hiding from someone above. Maybe it’s both.
Over the next 75 minutes, playwright Brett Neveu’s story of a damaged woman named Lori tumbles out in fits and starts. Through the one-woman show, Neveu explains how a middle-aged woman of Middle America came to be huddled and haunted in a room where once-treasured totems of a lifetime disintegrate, forgotten trash.
Throughout, the central question in Neveu’s drama centers on just who Lori is speaking to as she recounts anecdotes from high school, childhood, and – ultimately – the seminal event that proved her undoing. She has the sing-song, childish voice of a woman who isn’t quite right, a tone that embeds another unspoken question into the dialogue: What awful trauma left Lori in a state of seemingly muttering childishness?
Lori often seems to be addressing a large trunk front and center in Grant Sabin’s realistically cluttered and grimy set. By the midway point of Lori’s monologue, it’s clear that there’s something terrible contained in that trunk. The Big Reveal that comes in the final 10 minutes is fairly predictable and deeply problematic.
It’s difficult to explain why the end-game revelation is s so troubling without indulging in spoilers, but I’m going to give it a try: The way Neveu writes it, Lori’s profound damage could be a scene out of those ultra-right wing haunted houses that some Christian mega-churches put up every Halloween. Lori seems to have lost part of her mind and most of her spirit due to a common procedure that, for many women, is actually not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
As Lori describes her actions in the immediate aftermath of this apparently unbearable catastrophe, Her America begins to defy belief. As it turns out, The Thing in the Trunk is the highly unlikely stuff of a D-grade horror movie made by a virulently Evangelical pastor looking to proselytize the gospel of women’s inherent craziness and evilness.
That said, Kate Buddeke is an actor of fierce abilities. Directed by Linda Gillum, she makes Her America interesting, even as it propagates the tired notion that woman who dare to exercise control over their own biology risk being doomed to live as haunted creatures bleeding out in some godforsaken basement.
The most effective moments in Her America come as Lori is musing over days past with a hindsight that shows the inevitable sadness and the rusting underbelly of her world. Men, she acknowledges, are the root of much of her trouble. She’s literally surviving in their shadow – “All my life, it’s like the men are 20 feet tall,” she says, adding that Jesus is the tallest of all of them. Take women out of the mix, and “see how giant” all the men feel then, she mutters angrily.
Still, it’s not the men who push Lori over the edge: It is her own actions. In the end, Her America almost feels like a warning to the ladies. Stay on the straight and narrow, or you might end up trapped in a basement, tormented by endless guilt.
Her America continues through February 12th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Wednesdays-Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 2:30pm & 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are $42-$48, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online at Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GreenhouseTheater.org. (Running time: play length, includes an intermission)
Photos by Evan Hanover
behind the scenes
Linda Gillum (director), Grant Sabin (scenic design), Christine Pascual (costume design), Richard Norwood (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound design), Holly McCauley (prop design), Tanya Palmer (dramaturg), Kelly Montgomery (stage manager), Evan Hanover (photographer)