For the Loyal, written by Lee Blessing and receiving its Chicago premiere at the Athenauem Theatre in a production by Interrobang Theatre Project, delves into murky territory when the wife of an assistant coach for a college football team learns of a sexual abuse scandal involving one of the head coaches.
Mia (Sarah Gise) and Toby (Matthew Nerber) seem happy enough. Toby has a new coaching job and Mia is expecting their first child. The future is bright, until Toby divulges that he witnessed Coach Carlson (Rob Frankel) in what appeared to be the seduction of a young boy (Richard David). Soon, the couple is joined by fellow coach Hale (Josh Zagoren) as well as Carlson himself. When it seems that Toby is more likely to preserve his career than uphold justice, Mia takes matters into her own hands, radically altering her life as well as the play's linear storytelling.
Interrobang Theatre Project Strips Down Design
Presented as part of Interrobang Theatre Project’s RAW Series, For the Loyal is produced with fewer technical elements than a traditional production. This is by design. The Raw Series aims to focus more on acting and storytelling as a result. Even so, Pauline Olesky’s scenic design feels less than minimal in one of the Athenaeum Theatre’s black box spaces. Several pale green walls which create Toby and Mia’s home move, rotate, and convert the space into other settings after the first few scenes, offering impressive flexibility. Other design elements are more sparsely used, such as Rebecca Bartle’s lighting design and Christopher Aaron Knarr’s original music.
With a host of moral questions, the programmatic decision to put story and acting front and center in For the Loyal was no doubt a smart one. Each actor is working hard to realize Blessing’s three-dimensional characters throughout the piece. Most successful in crafting their characters are Gise’s passionate, unstinting Mia and David’s eerily nonchalant performance as The Boy. Frankel and Zagoren create believable portraits of football-loving men in power without resorting to caricature. Even so, this reviewer believes that with several shifts in time and reality, the storytelling may have been bolstered by a few more touches of design, as some shifts in plot were harder to track, despite the actors’ work.
For the Loyal Is Chillingly Topical
Directed at Interrobang Theatre Project by co-artistic director James Yost, Blessing’s play is, at times, as tense as it is topical. Blessing charts the action quickly at first, with a series of staccato scenes that Yost calibrates with immensely high stakes from the get-go. Inspired by the Penn State sex scandal, For the Loyal arrives in 2018 as relevant as ever, and the teeth behind its premise and multiplicity of ethical dilemmas is make up a broad amount of its appeal.
It’s hard not to be drawn in by Frankel’s portrayal of Coach Mitch Carlson, no matter how despicable his actions. Blessing puts some of his most insightful and incisive lines in Carlson’s mouth. In an extended scene with Mia, Carlson reflects that parents aren’t specific enough in their warnings to children about strangers. “What you should tell them is watch out for heroes,” Carlson posits. “Watch out for idols.” Certainly no industry supports that claim like the entertainment industry, especially amidst the #MeToo movement.
While some moments in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production are stronger than others, the ideas underneath the piece are what will continue to rattle through your head long after curtain call. And at only 78 minutes, For the Loyal’s deep dive into self-interest and misplaced loyalties is certainly a ticket worth considering.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Through Sunday, February 4, 2018
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 2 pm & 7:30 pm
Sundays at 2 pm.
The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1)
2936 N. Southport Ave.