Review: Lela & Co. (Steep Theatre)

| July 20, 2017

Chris Chmelik and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel star in Lela & Co., Steep Theatre (GG)            
      

Lela & Co.

Written by Cordelia Lynn
Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map)
thru Sept 16  |  tix: $25-$35  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


Now extended thru September 16th

  

Inspiring survival story is a disturbing but vital watch

  

Chris Chmelik and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel star in Lela & Co. at Steep Theatre (GG)

    
Steep Theatre presents
    
Lela & Co.

Review by Lauren Whalen

Sadly, women are used to men controlling their narratives. Being told “that didn’t really happen” is a tale as old as time, and the damage from not only abuse, but also denial that the abuse happened in the first place, stretches far and wide. For this reason and many others, Lela & Co. is a difficult watch but a vital one as well. The title character presents her life story, through the eyes of the men in her life (played by one actor) as compared with what she actually experienced. Not surprisingly to any female audience members, the two are very different. Sad, enlightening and a little bit funny, Lela & Co. is beautifully written, directed and acted, with a stunning lead performance from Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel.

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Chris Chmelik star in Lela & Co., Steep Theatre (GG) 2Though Lela & Co. only has two actors, the play encompasses an entire life and the cast of characters that come with it. Lela (Gonzalez-Cadel) has two older sisters, a lot of maiden aunts and a domineering father who loves to tell the story of her thirteenth birthday cake – one that Lela remembers quite differently. She’s under a lot of pressure: to be a good girl, to marry well, to avoid her father’s threats and fists. Lela wants to go to university and study geography, but falls in love at age fifteen with her brother-in-law’s charismatic business associate. What happens next is horrifying and, sadly, all too commonplace.

Our own president has bragged about sexually assaulting women. That is a fact. Music superstar and Chicago local R. Kelly married his underaged protégée, would hang around outside a Hyde Park high school in the 1990’s, and now has several women living under his roof who are allegedly required to call him Daddy. Women are constant targets; young women and women of color, even more so. Cordelia Lynn’s script deftly addresses the struggles of these women, the lies they tell themselves to cope, and their relentless will to survive. It’s telling, on director Robin Witt’s part, that the men in Lela’s life are played by a white-presenting actor: though abusers come in every color, it’s straight white men who get away with it the most. And without descending into inspiration porn, both playwright and director weave a complex, often tragic narrative that gives us hope for women like Lela.

Chris Chmelik and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel star in Lela & Co., Steep Theatre (LM)Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Chris Chmelik star in Lela & Co., Steep Theatre (GG) Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel stars in Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn, Steep Theatre (GG) 2Chris Chmelik stars in Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn, Steep Theatre (LM) Chris Chmelik and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel star in Lela & Co., Steep Theatre (GG)Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel stars in Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn, Steep Theatre (GG)

Over the years, I’ve seen Steep Theatre transformed into a trailer off the highway (The Few), a fancy English dining club (Posh) and a downtrodden river town (Wastwater). Innovative and brilliant as always, set designer Joe Schermoly places the audience on benches, tables and chairs in a sort of parlor that feels both familiar and strange. With red walls, mirrors and old-fashioned knickknacks, combined with Witt’s interactive staging, the audience is disoriented, thrown into Lela’s uncomfortably intimate world, which grows smaller and more frightening by the day. Chris Chmelik is a chameleon, deftly portraying everyone from Lela’s imposing father to a kind soldier who doesn’t do enough to save her. And as Lela, who goes from wide-eyed innocent to determined survivor over the course of 100 minutes, Gonzalez-Cadel strikes the right balance of intelligence and wit. Her Lela is a force, sweet and caring, only asking the audience to listen to, and understand, what really happened.

Just like Lela, women just want to be seen, and to be believed. Thanks to solid writing and directing, and a stellar lead performance, Steep Theatre’s Lela & Co. tells a story that is difficult but very, very real. Based on a true story, Lela & Co. is surprisingly funny, constantly challenging, and a vital addition to contemporary theatre.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  

Lela & Co. continues through August 19th September 16th at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $price, and are available by phone (773-649-3186) or online through OvationTix.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at SteepTheatre.com(Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission)

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Chris Chmelik star in Lela & Co. at Steep Theatre (GG)

Photos by Gregg Gilman and Lee Miller


  

artists

cast

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Chris Chmelik

Understudies: LaNora Terraé Hayden, Christopher Acevedo

behind the scenes

Robin Witt (director), Lauren Lassus (stage manager), Joe Schermoly (set design), Brandon Wardell (lighting design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), Jessica Kuehnau Wardell (costume design), Maria DeFabo (prop design), Christina Gorman (fight choreography), Carina Abbaticchio (dramaturg), Michael Rogerson, Isabel Perry (assistant directors), Julia Siple, Catherine Allen (production manager), Gregg Gilman, Lee Miller (photos)

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel stars in Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn, Steep Theatre (LM)

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Extensions-Remounts, Lauren Whalen, Steep Theatre

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