Chicago Theater Review: MARIA/STUART (Sideshow Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 8, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A FAMILY HAUNTED BY ITSELF

Even among dysfunctional clans – an apparently exhaustible topic for today’s theater – Jason Grote’s self-haunted family in Maria/Stuart gets laurels for looniness.  Unflinchingly depicted in Marti Lyons’ Chicago premiere for Sideshow Theatre Company, these six relatives hide more secrets that the two-act, 130-minute drama is willing to divulge. Instead we/they are confronted with a very movable menace: “Spanish Mary,” a robotic shibboleth, changeling or shape shifter who wears a red smock and gulps down non-diet sodas as she assumes the form of family members, gibbers in German (Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”) or orates in dense, oracular pronouncements. (The play’s cryptic title makes an esoteric allusion to Schiller’s play Maria Stuart about Mary Queen of Scots.)

Lawrence bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of MARIA/STUART SIdeshow Theatre

For years this Jewish family has been deep in denial about their phantom’s persistent presence, clearly the emanation of some unprocessed guilt over some unspecified abuse. Key to the revelation is a pink letter, supposedly written to son Stuart (Nate Whelden), a comic strip writer with a Chekhov fetish, who will soon sell his latest concoction for lucrative film rights. But what does it say about a too-close clan?

Lawrence bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of MARIA/STUART SIdeshow Theatre

Stuart’s mother is control-freak Marnie (Jennifer Joan Taylor), desperate to make sure that her son is “on my side.” Less supportive is Marnie’s chronically Christian sister Sylvia (Ann James) who wears hooks after losing her hands in a freak car crash (to the family’s shame she was institutionalized after being abused, a perfectly perverse example of blaming the victim). Successful sister Lizzie (Mary Anne Bowman), whose well-appointed home is richly displayed in Nick Sieben’s kitchen set, is so stiff with respectability it makes her brittle and defensive, particularly over Spanish Mary.

Lawrence bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of MARIA/STUART SIdeshow Theatre

Representing the earliest and latest generations are Ruthie (Susan Monts-Bologna), the food-obsessed grandmother whose birthday becomes the latest familial disaster, and Stuart’s pretty cousin Hannah (Scottie Caldwell) who may actually qualify for hope, provided she can escape five relations and an apparition. Except that she also wrote the pink letter to Stuart while the non-kissing cousins were in grade school and that has since become the center of his sexuality. Their pointed conversations manage to blend amusement with angst.

Lawrence bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of MARIA/STUART SIdeshow Theatre

Too excellent for specific adulation, Lyons’ taut sextet conveys the free-floating dread that oddly stabilizes the characters’ convenient quirks and the plot’s bizarre imaginings (including two food fights). Grote’s refusal to explain the family’s faults, normally an authorial cop-out, is all to his credit: Dark comedies that define its creatures by crazes need all the mystery they can muster. What you don’t know can fascinate even more than the rest – so this play amply confirms.

Lawrence bommer's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of MARIA/STUART SIdeshow Theatrephotos by Jonathan L. Green

Maria/Stuart
Sideshow Theatre Company
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
scheduled to end on May 5, 2013
for tickets, call 773-975-8150
or visit http://www.TheaterWit.org
more info at http://www.SideshowTheatre.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

 

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