Chicago Theater Review: MIRACLES IN THE FALL (Polarity Ensemble Theatre at Greenhouse Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 7, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

PRAY FOR MIRACLES

The “fall” in the title doesn’t mean the season. Miracles in the Fall refers to the expulsion from Paradise, the epic fall that supposedly created original sin. Pursuing the hope of redemption, Chuck O’Connor’s flawed 100-minute new work puts forgiveness over judgment as it depicts a fractured family trying to fix their faults. It’s a ready formula: During two hours of expository recriminations, four conflicted characters air out their dirty laundry, unpack old baggage, and cope with unfinished business (I use clichés in order to fight them).

Fred Wellisch (Jimmy Connelly), Mickey O'Sullivan (Charlie Connelly) and Laura Berner Taylor (Clare Connelly) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

It’s October 1968, a bloody year of insurrection. But in Detroit, the Tigers are in the World Series, where great double plays are routinely, if half-heartedly, called miracles. A Catholic family is at a crossroads. Their beloved, if not saintly, mother just died. But, because she was too perfect to endure, the late lady is not mourned by her husband, Jimmy Connelly (Fred A. Wellisch, twinkling and spewing). Jimmy is a reactionary Catholic, a shanty-Irish, blue-collar bigot who built his own home and so expects instant obedience from all who lived there. He will brighten the world the moment he leaves it.

Laura Berner Taylor (Clare Connelly) & Rian Jairell (Father Peter Lentine) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

Unthinking duty doesn’t come easily for son Charlie (Mickey O’Sullivan, caught in the crossfire). But this Vietnam veteran wants to reconcile with the dad who beat him after accusing him of driving their mother to her death. Now Charlie just wants to paint the house, apparently his penance for his victimization.

Fred Wellisch (Jimmy Connelly) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

Even angrier is daughter Clare (Laura Berner Taylor, who never met a line she couldn’t scream). Filled with self-doubt, serial shame, and hurt feelings, this troubled nun rages against Jimmy’s stubbornness and cruelty, discovering the truth about her origin in the process. To show the seriousness of this family friction, a Sunday dinner gets thrown all over the stage, artfully conveying nothing more than that an intermission is about to happen.

Laura Berner Taylor (Clare Connelly) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

Lacking clarity, Clare finds consolation from liberal priest Father Lentine (a solid Rian Jairell), a disenchanted prelate who finds the “one true faith” too hard for his heart. He offers Clare a psychological confession as potent as any absolution. Slowly she discovers that one vow at least no longer holds holy water.

Fred Wellisch (Jimmy Connelly), Rian Jairell (Father Peter Lentine), Mickey O'Sullivan (Charlie Connelly) and Laura Berner Taylor (Clare Connelly) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

Directing Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere, tried and truthful Richard Shavzin tries to shape these squabbles into drama. But, wrongly assuming you can talk your troubles away, O’Connor’s script is like a deadly business meeting where the “old business” allows little time for new stuff. The problems, especially this tough-hating father, are too easily fixed by a convenient death, a ghostly appearance, and an empty symbolic act. You won’t believe in Miracles.

Laura Berner Taylor (Clare Connelly) and Rian Jairell (Father Peter Lentine) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

photos by Richard Engling

Fred Wellisch (Jimmy Connelly) and Mickey O'Sullivan (Charlie Connelly) in MIRACLES IN THE FALL.

Miracles in the Fall
Polarity Ensemble Theatre
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago
scheduled to end on October 5, 2014
for tickets call 774-404-7336 or visit www.greenhousetheater.org
for more info, visit www.pettheatre.com

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

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