Chicago Theater Review: OWNERS (Interrobang Theatre Project at The Athenaeum Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 5, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

WINNING SMALL

Still potent after 42 years, Caryl Churchill’s corrosive class comedy Owners pits two outlooks on life against each other. In one corner you have Churchill’s now-patented “top girl,” the protagonist and anti-heroine Marion. She’s a predatory user/owner who can never get enough. But for all her snarling self-entitlement Marion is lonely at the top. She needs to be affirmed, and sex with an old friend’s attractive husband will do quite well.

Sarah Gise, Brynne Barnard, Matt Browning and Abbey Smith in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of Caryl Churchill’s OWNERS. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Weakly opposing this Alpha female is that coveted sexual target: Alec, husband of Lisa, the poor woman whose home and child Marion manages to steal. Passive to a fault (“I’d rather not have an idea of myself”), Alec doesn’t care where he lives or how. Of course, this makes him ripe for exploitation by power-crazed creatures who care too much, namely Marion.

Cunningly revived by Interrobang Theatre Project in a kickass staging by Jeffry Stanton, the play, performed on set designer Joe Schermoly’s merry-go-round revolving stage, mercilessly chronicles two acts of invincible corruption.

Matt Browning and Brynne Barnard in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of Caryl Churchill’s OWNERS. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

It’s an insidious case of the 1% wanting even more. Marion (Brynne Barnard as a dragon lady/Red Queen monster) is oblivious to the ardent desire of her butcher husband (Matt Castellvi) to see her dead. With the help of her increasingly injured henchman and catspaw Worsely (sad sack Christopher James Ash), she will uproot from their north London flat three childhood chums: hysterical Lisa (Abbey Smith, anguished throughout); her aged mother (Sarah Gise); and her would-be conquest Alec (Matt Browning). If fraud won’t work, arson will do.

Abbey Smith and Brynne Barnard in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of Caryl Churchill’s OWNERS. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Nothing is enough for selfish, greedy, and insatiable Marion. When she can’t get Alec’s body, she successfully schemes to possess their baby after Lisa is fooled into signing away all custody in a “third-party adoption.” (It’s a theft that Edward Albee will echo later in his equally cold-blooded The Play about the Baby.)

Brynne Barnard in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of Caryl Churchill’s OWNERS. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Lisa’s frantic attempts to reclaim her child, feebly abetted by Alec’s maddening resignation, lead inevitably to catastrophe for all but Marion. Trying to hold on to what little happiness life gives her (a clear affront to all-owning Marion) becomes the proverbial good deed that never goes unpunished.

Churchill’s blatant and unstoppable tale depicts in ugly detail Marion’s guilt-free dispossession and arrogant aggrandizement. It’s a strident saga. Stanton spares no subtleties as he unleashes a cautionary tale that reeks of social Darwinism. “Do what you want. Get what you can.” This is Marion’s credo and the play all but orders us to resist it by any measures possible.

Christopher James Ash, Brynne Barnard, Matt Castellvi, Abbey Smith and Matt Browning in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of Caryl Churchill’s OWNERS. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

But, of course, in 1972 Churchill was clearly swimming against the tide. Margaret Thatcher, the greatest top girl of them all, was soon to be Prime Minister.

photos by Emily Schwartz

Owners
Interrobang Theatre Project
The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Thurs – Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on November 2, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 935-6875 or  visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org
for more info, visit www.interrobangtheatreproject.org

for info on more Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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