Chicago Theater Review: HESPERIA (Writers’ Theatre)

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by Dan Zeff on February 11, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

A TEPID DISCOURSE ON SEX
AND RELIGION IN THE HEARTLAND

Hesperia is the name of a small Midwestern town, home to a number of devout Christians. Young Claudia fled here from Los Angeles in spiritual turmoil, seeking peace and consolation from life in the pornographic film industry. She finds succor in Hesperia’s sympathetic Christian fundamentalist community, particularly in the Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeffreligious counsel and romance with the devout Trick. With their wedding set for the near future, Claudia (for some obscure reason) sends a wedding invitation to Ian, her former porn partner and lover in California. Ian, who grew up in the Hesperia area, shows up on the run from unspecified pursuers seeking money he owes them.

Thus begins Randall Coburn’s 90-minute, intermissionless Hesperia in which sexual passion and religious faith battle it out. The play is obviously a very personal work for playwright Randall Coburn. He went through stages in his life that were marked first by Christian fundamentalism and then by an abusive sexual relationship. His play provides some stimulating dialogue about faith that is neither patronizing nor doctrinaire; his characters are well drawn and their individual crises hold the audience’s attention; but the play, which consists of a series of scenes mostly involving two or three characters, is better in its parts than as a whole.

Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffAfter Ian arrives, he takes to the religious spirit of the people he meets and decides he wants to convert from his tawdry life to a faith-based existence, but I had trouble accepting that Ian really was trying to convert to a religious faith in spite of a sharply observed and sensitive performance by Nathan Hosner.

Trick, who is aware of Claudia’s past, tries to keep his cool, befriending Ian and encouraging the visitor’s decision to turn over a new leaf. While Claudia is understandably uneasy about her ex-lover’s sudden leap of faith, Trick shows commendable understanding and forgiveness. Erik Hellman gives an incisive and sensitive performance as Trick, but it’s a head-scratcher why the playwright would name the boyfriend of an ex-porn star “Trick” with no sense of irony whatsoever.

Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Ian’s appearance in Hesperia roils a number of the locals, especially Trick’s cousin Daisy (Rebecca Buller), a young woman with no sexual experience. Her hormones raging, Daisy falls in love with Ian who, although he professes that he loves her, previously admitted to Claudia that he loved her, too (Kelly O’Sullivan is an attractive Claudia, but she comes across as a sweet young lady, and it’s difficult to place her in the rough and tumble world of pornographic movies).

Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffIan also crosses paths with a naïve youngster named Aaron, who lives in a state of confusion and frustration over his awakening sexual feelings. Tyler Ross has a strong and credible emotional scene when Aaron finds a DVD that shows Claudia and Ian doing their porn thing, but the DVD seems like an unnecessary plot device to stir things up, as Trick already knows about Claudia’s porn career in California.

The direction by Stuart Carden is occasionally intelligent and always unobtrusive. The religious faith of Daisy, Trick, and Aaron is unquestionably sincere, and the love scenes certainly do not lack commitment from the performers. But after 90 minutes, the play just stops, with Aaron and Daisy languishing offstage and Ian leaving town with strangers in a car bearing California license plates, his future unknown but probably unhappy. Let’s hope the same is not true for Colburn’s play, which could use a stronger storyline and some fleshing out before it is staged again.

Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

photos by Michael Brosilow

Hesperia by Randall Coburn at the Writers’ Theatre – directed by Stuart Carden – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Hesperia
Writers Theatre in Glencoe
ends on March 18, 2012
for tickets, visit Writers Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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