Ashley Neal’s first entry into the small Rivendell Theatre stage as Grace reminds of a puppy battered so much into crouching submission that nobody feels moved to rescue her wretched self from the shelter. Her neck, eyes, shoulder, hip each claim varying planes of orientation. She strides yet cowers. All she lacks is mange.
Grace is skulking in to meet Dr. Simon Jordan (Steve Haggard), a metrosexual of his 19th Century day who is the latest of many medical experts seeking to unlock her amnesia about the horrific double murder crime that has landed her in this private asylum prison. Both Grace and Dr. Jordan are there as the guests of the asylum’s champion, Mrs. Rachel Lavell (Jane Baxter Miller) whose aim to make history soon mixes with her cougar impulses to bed Dr. Jordan.
Mrs. Lavell is relatively constant compared to the subtle and not so subtle character slides of both Grace and Dr. Simon. Simon’s ups and downs and ins and outs are lubricated by more than a few sips of laudeman, 19th Century North America’s equivalent of today’s oxycontin. Grace though, is transformed more by her retelling of her life in these intimate meetings with Dr. Simon, and ultimately for the tell all that these pages will not spoil for those who haven’t read the book of same title by Margaret Atwood.
As perhaps a member of the minority in this opening night audience who hadn’t yet read Atwood’s novel, this writer can report you don’t need to in order to get the full monty impact of the story. In fact, coming without the book in your mind’s eye may be a distinct advantage to get just how expert the direction (Director: Karen Kessler) and characters’ slides, akin to the glissando of a trombone, truly are. If you are a bit wary of plays based on books that come off as clunky on the stage have no fear here. Jennifer Blackmer’s adaptation has zero of those telltale paw prints of playwrights that just can’t get over their love of an original work to see how it has to be made stage-ready.
The rest of the cast also takes on their roles and similarly wears them as bespoke skin. (Assette Muňoz, Maura Kidwel, Amro Salama, Drew Vidal and David Raymond.)
Rivendell Theatre presents a chapter in Women’s History
That this is based on a real event in Canadian history makes it all the richer, and even more to enjoy.
Expect to run to the library to put a hold on Atwood’s Alias Grace if you haven’t read it before.
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.
Note: an excerpt of this appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Thru November 4
Thursdays thru Saturdays 8:00 PM
Saturdays 4:00 PM
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
5779 N. Ridge Avenue
$38 with discounts for students, seniors, active military and veterans
First-come-first-served Pay-What-You-Can seats at each performance.
For tickets contact the Rivendell Theatre box office at 773 334 7728 or visit the Rivendell Theatre website.