Chicago Theater Review: FOR THE LOYAL (Interrobang Theatre Project at Athenaeum Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 9, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


In For the Loyal headlines become humans. A short but stirring piece of theatrical speculation, this new work by topical playwright Lee (A Walk in the Woods) Blessing condenses the recent Penn State sex scandal into a corrosive choice, a moral crisis impacting a “loyal” college couple.

As with Arthur Miller, Blessing knows how to boil down (without reduction) a national crisis into a domestic dilemma. Its second production and a Chicago premiere by Interrobang Theatre Project, Blessing’s actor-driven drama takes only 78 minutes and five characters to confront us with the sins that secrets seek to hide.

For the Loyal spins variations on a theme of betrayal: There’s no putative plot in this one-act. Instead the scenes imagine an alternative scenario to the ugly, actual controversy involving Penn State’s cover-up of the atrocities of football coach/serial boy-abuser Jerry Sandusky. Inevitably, the late pigskin icon Joe Paterno was implicated in concealing the abuse, along with the top echelon of the university’s administration.

Blessing’s provocation imagines a much more deadly domestic scenario for this college crisis. Married to seemingly meek and newly pregnant Mia (Sarah Gise), Toby (Matthew Nerber) is an ambitious young football coach hoping for promotion from established athletic honcho Coach Mitch Carlson (Rob Frankel, creepily resembling Sandusky as he brags how “I love kids”). Carlson in turn works for gridiron legend Head Coach Hale (Josh Zagoren), a ruthless, Vince Lombardi-style “win-at-any-cost” sports superstar.

When Toby tells Mia that he saw Carlson with a naked boy (Richard David) in his car, the couple’s lives and loyalties are instantly on the line. It’s, so to speak, a moral “fourth down.” Mia feels forced to be unquestioningly loyal to both a university and a husband. (Referenced in the title, the school’s fight song, which strangely equates loyalty with bravery and truth, is repeatedly quoted.) What will it take to get the truth out? What legacy will Mia leave her unborn child?

In a terrible moment of vigilante justice, Mia, still suffering guilt over being unable to prevent a friend’s suicide over the crimes of an abusive father, permanently settles any question of situational ethics.

The rest of Blessing’s slowly static play offers testimony, some maddeningly obfuscating and extenuating, to explain or refute Mia’s drastic “disruption” and Carlson’s predations. A poor kid who relished the presents Carlson gave him and didn’t exactly loathe the sex he exacted for them, The Boy has mixed feelings about being violated. As he does with his team, Hale blusters and intimidates his subordinates.

As a playwright should, Blessing plays with possibilities, then sardonically returns us to reality.

Though it seems to require indulging in heavy-handed dramatic manipulation, Blessing — and Interrobang co-artistic director James Yost — trigger some abrasive questions about the virtue of any loyalty that takes truth hostage. However hypothetical, the character clashes are believable — enough to stir in onlookers that painful, powerful, all-defining question, “What would you do?” And also “loyal to what?”


For the Loyal
Interrobang Theatre Project
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
Thurs and Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 and 7:30; Sun at 2
ends February 4, 2018
for tickets call 773.935.6875 or visit Interrobang

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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