From actor John Henry Roberts’ opening lines, you immediately sense that you are witnessing stand-out acting, and notably with pitch perfect New York accents. He is playing Danny, now incarcerated and in a permanent state of being on edge. Roberts is so much in the skin of his character that it’s easy to imagine his skin is clammy.
Danny is the alcoholic substance-abusing son of a pain-wracked woman near the end of her days, Therese Marie, “the little flower” title role played with equal excellence by Jeannie Affelder. Danny has not so much lost his way, as never had one.
Toxic Family Love
Theirs is a complicated relationship, as was Therese Marie’s relationship with her deaf father,(Michael J. Stark) whom we meet in her morphine-induced hallucinations in the curtains behind her hospital bed. Though the story doesn’t focus as much on Therese Marie’s daughter, Justina (Jess Maynard), the one thing we know about Justina is that she can barely tolerate her mother, and in fact rarely does.
Love with Price-Tags
There’s a lot of family love here‑but to say “it’s complicated” is a gross understatement. This is a story of close family ties that both sustain and cripple, even literally. It’s a story of how love-with-a-price-tag binds parent to child and child to parent. This is familial love as a train wreck. We, the audience, have gapers gawk taking it all in, mesmerized by the humor, intelligence, and infinite ways that Guirgis’s script packages raw and raging emotions.
This is the third in Eclipse’s Stephen Adly Guirgis season. Each production seems better than the last. This reviewer just wonders why the playwright’s least work was the one that won the Pulitzer Prize. Hands down, “The Little Flower of East Orange” is the more compelling story.
Jess Maynard’s delivery of her lines near the opening of the play, when she makes a phone call to her brother about their mother – hysterical in all senses—is in itself reason enough to make this play a top pick. As we descend into the soup of the story, it only gets better.
Now through December 16
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
2936 N. Southport Ave.
$30 and discounts for industry and students
Call 773-935-687r for Athenaeum Box or visit www.eclipsetheatre.com
Photos: Scott Dray
This review was excerpted in Theatre in Chicago.