Category: Eclipse Theatre Company
Eclipse tightly weaves sexual and cerebral dark comedy
|Eclipse Theatre presents|
|One Flea Spare|
|Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22 | tickets: $28 | more info
Reviewed by Dan Jakes
Charles’ Law: confine elements together, turn up the heat, watch them expand. Prevent them from expanding, and you watch them burst.
It’s a basic principle of chemistry, and a loose outline for any drama in which characters are trapped together during a crisis. The heat, per se, in Naomi Wallace’s 1995 play is in part the Great Plague that ravaged London during the 17th Century, and in part the class and sexual inadequacies of her characters: a wealthy couple quarantined inside their home, and the two poor, desperate scavengers who sneak in for shelter.
Twenty five days into a preventative lockdown with boards and a guard (Zach Bloomfield) sealing the couple’s walls and windows, a young servant disguised as a wealthy man’s daughter (Elizabeth Stenholt) and a sailor (JP Pierson) inadvertently extend the couple’s incubation stay from three more days to a full twenty eight. Tensions quickly escalate.
The plague is only the backdrop in Wallace’s story—to some of these characters, it’s more or less a nuisance than a crisis. The real threats within the estate are offenses to each others’ presumptions and social sensibilities: sexual bargaining, class warfare, homoeroticism…One Flea Spare explores these tasty ideas with a steady mix of poetry and prose, absurd comedy and claustrophobic tension.
Even with violence always looming, and several onstage nods to penetration, the experience is more intellectual than visceral. It’s always satisfying to think about, if only mostly fun to watch. Underneath the play’s linear-plot exterior lies a mosaic play’s heart, mashing together styles and tones, sometimes with enlightening results; other times, the product is more convoluted.
Director Anish Jethmalani is able to help keep the show grounded in places where Wallace doesn’t, knowing not to overwhelm the tightly packed text. Her straightforward and precise staging provides clarity to themes that could easily otherwise be murky. The cast does likewise. This small ensemble is exceptional, especially Brian Parry as the proud, aging, and sometimes oafish house master. Susan Monts-Bologna achieves sympathy without victimhood as his oppressed wife, and JP Pierson conveys a sense of maturity that’s found somewhere in between a young man’s idealism and an adult’s surrender to reality.
All photos by Scott Cooper
Arthur Miller and the Meaning of Work
by Paige Listerud
Our last video interview with Eclipse Theatre cast members examines their critically acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays (our review ★★★). Eclipse has had a superlative season with each successive showing of rarely produced Arthur Miller works. Completing their season, A Memory of Two Mondays won the hearts of many in the Chicago theater community, opening in time for Labor Day. Set in an auto parts warehouse, Miller’s impressionistic one-act cuts to the heart of our dull dissatisfaction with the day-to-day grind, critically exacerbated by worse economic times. How we think about work and our own personal worth strikes to the very core of daily experience of American life.
Joining us is Brandon Ruiter, playing Bert, the young and hopeful lead of the play and Kevin Scott, playing the beleaguered warehouse manager, Raymond. Kevin Scott doubles as Managing Director for Eclipse and intimately knows how the economic stresses of our Great Recession correspond with Miller’s themes. There’s no getting away from our current hard times. But there’s also no getting away from the American Dream, the idea of America against which we measure our individual worth and our hopes for the employment that will help us to reach our dreams.
A Memory of Two Mondays closes October 17 and the last event in their Playwright Scholar series on Arthur Miller happens this Saturday, October 2 (open to the public for a small donation). Enjoy the video and go see the show. Few American playwrights look as plainly and unflinchingly at American life as Miller does. Without adornment or exaggeration, it is enough for him just to go to the heart of the country. A Memory of Two Mondays is his statue in the park for the ordinary working Joe.
Attention Must Be Paid—to the Monday Blues
If I stress the various facets of unhappiness, it is because I believe unhappiness should be studied very carefully . . . This certainly is no time for anyone to pretend to be happy, or to put his unhappiness away in the dark. You must watch your universe as it cracks above your head.
|Eclipse Theatre presents|
|A Memory of Two Mondays|
|Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Steven Fedoruk
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 17 | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
A Memory of Two Mondays is Arthur Miller’s one-act dirge to the boulevard of broken American dreams. Don’t go to Eclipse Theatre’s production at the Greenhouse Theater Center without reflecting on the rainy days and Monday morning workdays that always get you down. Set in the Great Depression of Miller’s youth, one observes this play’s dysfunctional workplace, set in an automobile parts warehouse, in the complete knowledge that these are the lucky ones. These people have jobs. As dead- end as those jobs may be, as crappy the conditions, and as ineffectual as the management is under a callous boss, a dead-end job is still better than the joblessness that leads one to Hooverville or to standing in bread lines.
Director Steven Fedoruk’s cast sails through the impressionist style of Miller’s script. What a good thing his slight-of-hand control is, since this particular workplace borders on the madhouse. Seen through the eyes of Bert (Brandon Ruiter), a hopeful young man saving up for his college education, all the habits, experiences, idiosyncrasies and neuroses of his co-workers at first seem funny, fascinating, interesting, bizarre or clownish. But soon it becomes clear that the daily grind of meaningless work, rotten conditions, poverty wages, and no real future is getting to everyone.
On top of that, let’s just say the management style for this workplace is extremely loose. Raymond (Kevin Scott) has absolutely no say in who gets hired or fired. Even a raging alcoholic like Tom (Malcolm Callan), who has to be propped up, catatonic, at his desk until he revives, gets a second chance. Meanwhile, the razor-sharp Larry (Josh Venditti), who knows the location of every part in the shop, languishes bitterly without promotion. Those critical decisions remain the province of Mr. Eagle (Joel Reitsma), the absentee business owner. Heaven only knows where he goes golfing while his workers run amok and his business’s infrastructure, slowly but surely, crumbles into dust.
Beyond the insanity of Bert’s work situation, we witness the terrible loss of time, of one’s dreams, one’s mind, and one’s life in this terrible place. For the workers, decades go by in which nothing changes. It’s as if drudgery and inertia have the hypnotic power to hold everyone under a spell. Kenneth (J.P. Pierson), newly arrived from Ireland, is full of poetry, song and culture when Bert first makes friends with him at the warehouse. But through mindless work, hopelessness and the pervasive materialism of American culture he loses it all, like sand draining away.
One could write off each and every one of these characters as losers but Miller won’t allow it. A Memory of Two Mondays is not a great Miller work. It’s a one-act trying to do too much in a small space of time with recurrent Miller themes. It carries potent echoes of Death of a Salesman. “I don’t get it,” mourns Bert, on the verge of leaving for college, “How is it me that gets out? There ought to be a statue in the park. To all the ones that stayed.” Attention must be paid.
Attention must be paid but not to the young hero who leaves for a brighter future. That’s the Billy Elliot story. No. Attention must be paid to those who slog on against horrible odds, whose future is unglamorous, and whose work will never win them a spot in the limelight or public honor. Attention must be paid to people whose work is more essential to building a nation than a politician’s career or a pop star’s brief fame.
Miller’s watchful eye is always on the fear, the desperation, and the blighted potential that are the dark side of the American Dream. But more often than not he watches, not with an eye of criticism, but with an eye of compassion.