Cloudgate Theatre Presents STRANGE HEART BEATING Review - Thriller for Kristalnacht Eve, RECOMMENDED best play pick, THRU JULY 27, 2019
Even before you read in the program about how this is part of a “neo-noir” genre, older audience members may similarly get a déja vu for the famed TV show Twin Peaks that dragged us into a story of graft and corruption in a rural setting whodunit. It’s the voice of the lake, Stephanie Shum, costumed in nets and what one imagines all sorts of secrets that can be dredged up from the lake’s bottom (Costume Design: Anna Wooden) that sets this tone. Shum’s forceful voice opens the play with a spooky feeling soliloquy. Pay attention closely because it’s only by remembering her opening words and oblique references to what went down that will enable you to piece it all together—or as much as you can—by play’s end.
A young girl has gone missing. Her mother Lena (Leah Raidt) , a recovering alcoholic, is close to the sheriff, Teeny (Jyreika Guest). Much exposition is packed into the dialogue in this opening scene. We are quickly brought into a very small town world, where everyone knows everyone, and it is inconceivable something untoward happened to the girl. More, we get to know these characters’ backstories as if we grew up alongside them in this so small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Teeny is a character we haven’t really met before in life or on a stage—at least for this writer-- but one who seems quite plausible and engaging, in no small way because of the superb acting Jyreika Guest brings to every line.
The cast is rounded out by Brandon Rodriguez as Ramon, a bookish birder who works in the payroll department of a processing plant in a nearby town. His role does most of the heavy lifting of exposing the underbelly in the town and in our world—racism, xenophobia, climate change, injustice, and undercurrents of perversions taking shape in the form of frankenfoods and hideous happenings that remain clouded in murky innuendo.
To tell more of this electric plot would be a spoiler. This is an expose of evil in its most repellent form. Expect to be captivated from beginning to end.
For this writer, the script and production’s ability to describe place is a standout--moving us from the stench of a factory farm to a sterile prison, etc.—with barely a set or prop change (Director: Addie Gorlin). You may end up checking your shoes to see if you are tracking lake mud into your house.
Yes, when the play ends and your conversation dissects the action, you too will likely find some large pot holes in the story lines and character development, but also know that these don’t keep you from latching to the story from the edge of your seat.
In the program notes we read about how playwright and Cloudgate Theatre Artistic Director Kristin Idaszak took her story inspiration from a real world murder in a rural Minnesota town.. Though classics like Crime and Punishment-- which the Ramon character is reading when we first meet him-- have focused on evil through the ages, Strange Heart Beating’s take on evil feels so very modern day.
Cloudgate Theatre Has Uncanny Timing for the Play’s Opening Date
Playwright Kristin Idaszak couldn’t have scripted a more opportune moment to unveil Strange Heart Beating. It’s not just that Epstein has been dominating headlines of late. This play opened on the very day when Black Lives Matter marked its sixth anniversary with many pundits noting how little has changed in these years of racist-motivated murders. And, it was also less than 24 hours to go until Trump’s threatened ICE raid echoes of the Nazi’s Kristalnacht..
By dredging the lake’s secrets, Cloudgate Theatre gives us a deep dive into the kind of sick mindsets sustained by racism that triumph in throwing children in cages. Unlike numbing daily headlines however, Strange Heart Beating keeps us enthralled and sitting on the edge of our seats.
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.
Jyreika Guest (Teeny), Leah Raidt (Lena), Brandon Rodriguez (Ramon) and Stephanie Shum (Lake).
Kristin Idaszak, playwright; Addie Gorlin, director; Elena Gonzalez Molina, assistant director; Tara Branham*, casting director; Tanuja Jagernauth*, dramaturg; Lila Gilbert*, production manager; Angela McIlvain, scenic designer; Anna Wooden*, costume designer; Kaili Story, lighting designer; Averi Paulsen, sound designer; Jay Epps, stage manager; Dominic DiGiovanni*, technical director; and Shane Kelly (producer). * Indicates Cloudgate Artistic Associate
THRU JULY 27, 2019
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Sundays at 5 p.m.
1106 W. Thorndale