Tag: Trap Door Theatre
December’s end brings frantic resolutions, plans for heavy drinking and of course, a barrage of best/worst lists. Being the largest theater review site west of Broadway, Chicago Theater Beat covered over 600 shows in 2011, and the difficulty of choosing the top 25 speaks to the city’s vibrant cultural landscape. In alphabetical order, here are our choices for the year’s best:
the word ‘progress’
on my mother’s lips
doesn’t ring true
Written by Matei Visneic
MISSHAPE-A European Supper
Written by Werner Schwab
Translated by Michael Mitchell
Directed by Yasen Peyankov
at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
thru Nov 12 | tickets: $20-$25 | more info
Tennessee Williams finds religion
|Uncovered Theatre presents|
|Sister Calling My Name|
|Written by Buzz McLaughlin
Directed by Rob Arbaugh
at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
through June 12 | tickets: $15 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Although it isn’t explicitly mentioned in their mission statement, Chicago newcomer Uncovered Theatre has a definite Christian bent. Not only does their debut production, Sister Calling My Name, dabble quite heavily in Catholicism, their list of donors reveals several Christian charities. With a city where every theatre company has their niche, it’s refreshing that Uncovered decided to cater to a Christian crowd. Sort of. Buzz McLaughlin’s Sister Calling My Name veers dangerously close to a Sunday School video with a few naughty words thrown in. While some intriguingly honest dissenting opinions are explored, they are simply cast off by the end. I think director Rob Arbaugh was aiming for contemplative but he winds up with preachy.
Let’s not forget that people are paying good money for these seats. It seems deceitful to wholeheartedly shove a worldview down their throats without fair warning, no matter if the point of view is religious, political or otherwise. This play definitely had my Catholic guilt churning. After about the third or fourth “Hail Mary” said on-stage, I felt compelled to go to confession. (I guess they got me. Well played.)
McLaughlin’s script is ripped straight out of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. A cynical young man, Michael (Luke Daigle), keys the audience into his memories, most of which concern his disabled sister, Lindsey (but here she’s severely mentally retarded, played by Katie Cheely). Empty picture frames hang from the walls. Supposedly colorful paintings are presented as stark white paper. Instead of an overbearing Southern mother, though, we get Sister Anne (Kelly Helgeson), the sister’s overseer and former flame of Michael. It’s all a bit too close to Williams’ masterpiece for comfort.
The basic premise is that Michael has crossed Lindsey out of his life for years. Lindsey becomes a successful painter yet has no one to manage the huge sums of money people are paying. Sister Anne phones up Michael to let him know the situation, telling him he has a legal obligation. He visits, sticks around, and offers plenty of thoughts regarding religion. Maybe he feels called by God. Maybe he feels an underlying desire to see his sister. Or maybe he’s hoping Sister Anne will leave the Church for him. Half of McLaughlin’s play is devoid of stakes—you’re wondering why Michael doesn’t just bolt once he finds out Sister Anne tricked him into coming out.
Even though the finale is predictable and didactic, Sister Calling My Name isn’t empty of complexity. I was worried they would equate Lindsey’s condition to possession by evil spirits, but that never happens. Lindsey’s story is pretty bleak. There’s no shying away from the real-life horrors many similarly disabled people face, which imparts some honesty to the text. And Michael raises some nagging existential questions. God, seemingly, made his life (and Lindsey’s, for that matter) awful. Why shouldn’t he hate God?
McLaughlin’s answers are unsatisfying. Instead of the touchingly sad ending of Williams’ play, this ties itself up too nicely. And Michael’s vitriolic hate for his sister rings false—his constant referring to her as “subhuman” didn’t match the rest of his character.
Daigle’s performance occasionally dips into melodrama and he can’t work out the script’s glaring holes, but he’s a decent go-between for the audience. Cheely plays Lindsey simply and honestly, carefully avoiding an offensive depiction of disability. Helgeson’s nun is great, if sometimes overly earnest.
It’d be easy to dismiss Uncovered as missionaries on a stage (most of them hail from Regent University), but I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Sister Calling My Name’s religious message doesn’t fully convey the complexities of the situation it sets up. They can leave some hard questions unanswered. That’s just how life works sometimes.