Strawdog Theatre Presents THE NIGHT SEASON Review – Theater So Satisfying

Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
John Henry Roberts, playing the actor who moves into the family home while shooting a film, strikes up a warm relationship wtih Lily, who is dying of cancer Photo: Heath Hays
Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
(L to R) Michaela Petro (Rose), Janice O'Neill (Lily), Justine C. Turner (Judith) and Stella Martin (Maud) are watching not you, but the imagined TV that sits just where you are, and most of the time with the sound off, at Lily's insistence Photo: Heath Hays

Strawdog Theatre Chooses Script Gem

In an early plot scene, an actor who has arrived in town to play Yeats in a film and who will be boarding with the family (John, played by John Henry Roberts) and who is drowning his sorrows in whiskey—which is something most of these characters do a lot—poses the question of whether there are some mistakes that we make that are simply irreparable. That question seems to sum up and frame all that follows.

A different title for the script might be “In Esther’s Wake.” Esther is the mother of three grown daughters (Judith played by Justine C. Turner; Maud played by Stella Martin; and Rose played by Michaela Petro), the daughter of a woman dying of cancer (Lily played by Janice O’Neill), and the ex of her gruff and tumble husband (Patrick played by Jamie Vann). She had left them all ten years earlier. We never meet her. As we get to know her family we learn about how her abandonment of them is and isn’t reparable.

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz’ title perhaps also makes reference to the Yeats poem, “That the Night Come”, which is said to be the poet’s lament of how his unrequited love in real life busied herself and would keep doing so until death came. There is much more Yeats in the script that might feed Yeats scholars in the audience, of which this writer is not one. You don’t need to be the slightest bit Yeats literate to “get” the story. What matters most is that we quickly come to care about all of the quirky characters and relish getting to know them from the very start.

Trademark Top Notch Acting

Of course it’s the trademark top-notch acting one expects from Strawdog that makes that possible and this production so compelling. It’s perhaps telling that five of the cast (O’Neill, Petro, Roberts, Turner and Vann) are Strawdog ensemble members. Reyes, who was a standout in relatively small roles in Strawdog’s recent production of Cymbeline, is magnetic here as well. Newcomer Martin also meets the high bar of her fellow cast members.

One annoyance so common on Chicago stages––in an early showing of the play the accents weren’t flawless. If not fixed soon, your ears might too be interrupting to question you—Ireland? Scotland? Oklahoma? This writer has come to expect such liberties with accents at Chicago’s BIG NAME theaters that don’t seem to need to work much for an audience, but diehard Strawdog fans might expect more.

 

Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
(L to R) Michaela Petro (Rose) and John Henry Roberts (John) in a sweet moment when you first realize that Rose's hardboiled commentary on her father isn't what it seems at first Photo: Heath Hays

Editor's Note:  A Picture this Post reader, who refuses to identify themselves (??) has written in that this mixup of Irish/Scottish dialect is actually quite typical of the Sligo area where the play is set.   How interesting!  Alas, the ear jarrings we got in this preview performance weren't quite explained by that.  Long monologues by one or another actor in the cast-- not all--would land with the same accent you find in Cubs Park.  Knowing the high bar for Strawdog acting, this flaw is likely fixed by the time this comment is being "inked".

That said, if you just love watching great actors ply their craft this is absolutely a top pick.

 Old Time Movie Feel

The Night Season is probably one of the longest plays on a Chicago stage now. You will note this, but likely not mind. The scenes are short and numerous, especially in the second half. Our attention shifts back and forth from one bedroom to another, to a pub, to a library, the beach, a restaurant, the living room—all in rapid fire. In other hands this might engender whiplash; in Strawdog’s production it just seems to add to the anticipation of what comes next or what one of these accessible but complex characters might say.

Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
Michaela Petro as Rose and John Henry Roberts as John are pitch perfect, in all senses Photo: Heath Hays
Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
The relationship between Judith (Justine C. Turner) and Gary (Michael Reyes) may epitomize the longing that real-world Yeats felt for his love interest Photo: Heath Hays

It feels like an old time black and white movie, in part because of these rapid scene shifts. But more, because the story and acting are so satisfying that you realize there really was never anything wrong with a “Hollywood Ending” when it was done right.

Not for Children

There are a lot of F*** words and a lot of F***ing with a touch of nudity. Yet it is Eros with a tender touch, which very much adds to the sweetness of the story. Most parents wouldn’t want to bring their children to this play. Then again, if parents are trying to find ways to broach discussion of “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”, it strikes this writer that this script gives a good chew on that topic, and these days, well, most teens have seen more anyway.

Strawdog THE NIGHT SEASON
Michael Reyes portrays chess whiz Gary with great sensitivity Photo: Heath Hays

Expect to walk out of the theater— Strawdog’s last in its temporary space at the Factory Theater on Howard before it moves to its new home—with a great sense of satisfaction. The Night Season is the theater equivalent of a healthy and delicious meal. You can also expect some of the lines to return to you the next day like a post-feast burp. SPOILER ALERT—This writer is still chuckling about a line where a man’s body was critiqued for having “the wrong color scheme”.

RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

When:

Now through June 24

Thursdays – Saturdays 8 PM
Sundays – 4 PM

 

Where:

The Factory Theater
1623 West Howard
Chicago

Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

Tickets:

$30

Available at strawdog.org or by calling 866 – 811 – 4111.

 

 

Photos:  Heath Hays

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