Chicago Theater Review: IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP (Profiles Main Stage Theatre in Chicago)

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by Dan Zeff on April 27, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


In a Forest, Dark and Deep may not be top drawer Neil LaBute, but it does provide a showcase for two of the area’s best performers to rant and rave at each other with considerable gusto for 90 uninterrupted minutes. The actors are Darrell Cox, an old hand at a LaBute script, and Natasha Lowe, an actress with an expanding list of notable performances on her resume. The two play a brother and sister brought together in a cabin somewhere in the Midwest on a dark and stormy night. Cox plays Bobby, a blunt blue collar type given to foul-mouthed language. Lowe is his sister Betty, a 40-ish woman now a dean at the local university. The two, as the saying goes, are about as alike as chalk and cheese.

Betty has asked Bobby to the cabin to help her pack up the contents of the place in advance of putting it up for sale, but does she have a more complex agenda? The siblings start bickering as soon as Bobby enters the premises, drenched from the thunderstorm outside. The two have issues that go back into their childhood, with the pair tossing accusations and recriminations back and forth in the conventional spirit of dysfunctional family dramas.

In a Forest, Dark and Deep at Profiles Main Stage – Chicago Review by Dan ZeffAs they rag at each other, we glean a few biographical facts. Bobby has a history of marital problems, including spousal abuse, but he lives by what he feels is a strong moral code. The play gradually shifts toward Betty, a far more complicated character than her raunchy and grubby brother. It would be unfair to reveal too much of the plot, but it’s permissible to report that Betty is a woman with secrets and a penchant for concealing embarrassing personal information with layer after layer of lies.

The two go back and forth, screaming accusations at each other and defending themselves like George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play ends with a revelation that I found neither surprising nor credible. In fact, the entire storyline oozes soap opera, underscored by thunder crashing and lights periodically going out like something out of an Agatha Christie tale, a comparison not meant as a compliment.

In a Forest, Dark and Deep at Profiles Main Stage – Chicago Review by Dan Zeff

The narrative may be sappy, but LaBute is still a master at creating attention-grabbing female characters and he’s given Lowe some great emotional dialogue to chew on. Cox also has his moments of verbal explosion as Bobby probes to uncover his sister’s secrets. Together the duo gives the spectators a feast of high intensity and high decibel acting. Under Joe Jahraus’ direction, Cox and Lowe make watchable a pair of characters who could be shrill and unpleasant, but the play still demands a high tolerance for melodrama. So patrons who can accept In a Forest, Dark and Deep as a showcase for two volcanic performances should enjoy an entertaining evening.

The play is the opening presentation at the new Profiles Main Stage Theatre a few doors south of its original venue, now named the Alley Theatre. The Main Stage has a much larger seating capacity and a more sizable playing area, allowing for the kind of detailed sets that were impossible on the more intimate Alley stage. The test of the Main Stage will come with productions filled with characters instead of the current LaBute two-hander.

In a Forest, Dark and Deep at Profiles Main Stage – Chicago Review by Dan Zeff

Thad Hallstein has created a spacious bi-level cabin interior, though the two battling characters mostly occupy spaces within inches of each other. John Kohn III (lighting design) and Jeffrey Lynn (sound design and original music) combine to create the spooky-isolated-house-in-a-storm atmosphere. That atmosphere may be a theatrical cliché, though the sound and lighting do create a few jolts for the viewer. But the play never delivers the creepy, menacing drama suggested by its title.

As it builds its brand name as a home for edgy dramas, the Profiles has been able to elevate itself to an Equity operation, allowing it to employ top tier performers like Natasha Lowe. The theater has earned its reputation for introducing enterprising new playwrights and given exposure to a considerable number of young actresses who thrive in the Profiles dramatic environment. Having two working venues should double the pleasure for playgoers seeking fresh, chance-taking shows presented with in-your-face theatricality.

photos by Wayne Karl

In a Forest, Dark and Deep
Profiles Main Stage Theatre
ends on June 3, 2012
for tickets, call 773 549 1815 or visit Profiles

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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