Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Strong Acting Can't Keep Numerous Threads of 'The Night Season' FromHanging Loose -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Night Season
by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
directed by Elly Green
Strawdog Theatre Company
at The Factory Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 24

Perhaps I have seen too many Martin McDonagh plays featuring quaint Irish settings, thick brogues, quirky characters, quarreling families and a healthy dose of profanity that I couldn't help but anticipate Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Night Season--featuring all of the above--similarly erupting into bloody mayhem.

Lenkiewicz--who co-wrote the movie Ida, a masterpiece of contemplative serenity and my favorite film of this decade--obviously can't be held accountable for opting not to turn her 2004 drama into an over-the-top black comedy.

For assuredly, there are many great Irish plays that don't wind up with body parts strewn around the stage.

And gushing like geysers. (Such as in McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore.)

But while The Night Season's script--aided by fine acting in this Strawdog Theatre Co. production under the direction of Elly Green--is strong enough to keep me reasonably intrigued across a 90-minute first act in which numerous narrative threads are introduced, the nearly-as-long second act never congeals cohesively enough.

Nor provides McDonaghesque histrionics, which, candidly, would have been welcome.

Centered around three unmarried sisters--Rose (Micaela Petro), Judith (Justine C. Turner) and Maud (Stella Martin)--who live in Sligo with their father Patrick (Jamie Vann) and his mother-in-law Lily (Janice O'Neill), The Night Season's driving force is the arrival in town of a (mostly unseen) film crew shooting a movie about legendary Irish poet W.B. Yeats.

I do not know enough about Yeats or his work to appreciate corresponding themes that may have run through the play. There are some poetic verses openly quoted, but if any of these provide reason or rationale for the show's title, or anything else, I'm admittedly clueless.

John (John Henry Roberts), a film actor of seemingly some renown, stays in the family's guest cottage, has sex with one of the sisters and dances sweetly with the somewhat demenia-beset Lily.

Amid much drinking and the steady playing of old phonograph records, we also meet Gary (Michael Reyes), a local ex-boyfriend of Judith, while another sister's good-fer-nothin' beau is frequently referenced but not seen.

Also commonly spoken of is Esther, the girls' mother, Patrick's ex-wife and Lily's daughter. Slowly piecing several Act I mentions together, it seems she divorced Patrick years back--before the youngest sister, Maud, really go to know her--now lives in London and is longingly spoken of as though she were dead and not just a phone call, email or hourlong flight away.

Petro, Turner and Martin well-play the sisters, with convincing Irish brogues, and dialogue about their love lives, missing mother and visiting movie star--who himself is just days removed from a family crisis--offering much for the audience to digest and potentially identify with. (The rest of cast is also strong, most particularly O'Neill as Lily.)

But while The Night Season ostensibly involves several themes familiar to many a fine drama, I found that there were too many threads, with most never leading anywhere all that enticing.

I also didn't see any reason for this play--or most for that matter--to be as long as it is, especially as I would have been content with three separate ending points before the actual one.

Not that nearly 3 hours of earnest, even if not superlative, theater isn't a worthwhile investment of my time, but I typically find relative brevity to be dramatically beneficial.

With seven on-stage characters, all given considerable depth--I didn't broach on nearly all of the narrative strains--writer Lenkiewicz, director Green and all the actors do a estimable job letting us get to know the members of this particular Irish family and their Yeats-playing new pal.

But I think it would've behooved The Night Season if some of the storylines were winnowed out, with the focus on certain characters and their everyday crises allowed little more than a smattering.

If not--in going all Inishmore--a splattering.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Sounds like a play whose reach exceeded its grasp.