Chicago Theater Review: SOLSTICE (A Red Orchid)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 14, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Steve Schine, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Lawrence Grimm in SOLSTICE at A Red Orchid TheatreSolstice offers a disturbing look at a chaotic class-ridden conflict, and British playwright Zinnie Harris delivers some ugly goods: She imagines—and A Red Orchid Theatre pictures it all potently—a violent neighborhood poisoned by a contaminated river and hemmed in by a barrier bridge upon which some obscure atrocity has occurred. The power grid fails regularly, the phones only work on Thursday, and the weather is stifling and sticky. But there’s “money in the mud,” meaning that these ramshackle, fly-infested shanty hovels of corrugated aluminum siding will soon be food for bulldozers. Meanwhile, a mysterious airfield doubles as a concentration camp for political prisoners extracted from this subversive neighborhood.

Lawrence Grimm, Meighan Gerachis and Andrew Cutler in SOLSTICE at A Red Orchid TheatreSuggesting many more dead ends, Harris concentrates on one endangered family trying to survive their multifaceted doom. Director Karen Kessler makes us feel as much as see them: The father Michael (Larry Grimm) is a very devout candlemaker whose business is failing like everything around him, including his ailing wife Terese (Kirsten Fitzgerald), both poisoned by the water and void of faith. Their rebel son Adie (Andrew Cutler) is a persecuted “boggy boy” from the wrong side of town who thinks a gun and explosives will give him direction. His homeless girl friend Sita (Sarah Price) lives in the steeple of Michael’s beloved church, occasionally visited by her feckless friend Jean (Danny Luwe) and brother Sol (Kevin Matthew Reyes).

Add to this desultory group a hapless neighbor Hannah (Meighan Gerachis) who gets caught up in the crises and a rich uncle Thomas (Steve Schine) who’s ostensibly a baker but seems to have gotten a lot of government money if he can help to force these poor folks off the valuable minerals that a corporation covets. We’ve got a Danny Luwe, Kevin Matthew Reyes and Sarah Price in SOLSTICE at A Red Orchid Theatrewitch’s brew that’s bound to boil over.

Nothing good can come from this community impasse: Every change they face is for the worse. This “change of ideology,” as menacing Michael sardonically puts it, requires a ritual sacrifice out of the Old Testament. But his cruel “cleansing” is no cure, just another curse.

Solstice is no detailed docudrama, its toxic territory neatly circumscribed in 110 minutes: Much in Harris’ mysterious depiction of a cumulative downfall is cryptic and open-ended, more suggested than shown. But that very vagueness makes this damaged family’s very specific struggle to stay decent, whether by relying on religion or a more obvious form of escape, strangely moving. Kessler’s casting is almost pathologically precise (minus the British accents). Her eight players act and react as kinetically as the disturbing developments deserve.

photos by Michael Broslow

A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave.
scheduled to end on February 23, 2014
for tickets, call (312) 943-8722 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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