Eclipse Theatre Presents NATURAL AFFECTION Review – Disturbing

Sue (Diana Coates) pulls away from Donnie (Terry Bell) in Eclipse Theatre's production of “Natural Affection” by William Inge, directed by Rachel Lambert. Running April 12-May 20, 2018, at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

When intermission comes half way giving you a reprieve from this production’s tension, your dread of what is to come may actually double down on you.

Not dread at the acting or production value – quite the contrary. This is a pitch perfect cast, and ,in a low-budget sort of way, a fine set design (Joanna Iwanicka) and— especially, in 20-20 hindsight—appropriate music and sound design that lingers for a long prelude that gets us in the mood (SOund Design: Chris Kriz).

In particular, Terry Bell’s performance as Donnie quakes so violently that one might think it jars the Richter scale up a notch. He plays a young man who may be able to stay out of the work farm reformatory if his mother (Diana Coates) agrees to take him into her home for his remaining sentence.

Sue (Diana Coates) and Bernie (Luke Daigle)
Sue (Diana Coates) and Bernie (Luke Daigle)
Donnie (Terry Bell) meets Bernie (Luke Daigle) as Sue (Diana Coates) looks on

Years ago, she had been a teen mom who had given Donnie over to an orphanage, and then went on to build a successful adult life. Her bonds of “natural affection” with Donnie though compete with her ardor for her live-in boyfriend Bernie (Luke Daigle) whom she would like to marry.

Add to this mix the neurotic neighbors—Vince, a middle aged depressed man who may be a “closet case” (Joe McCauley) and his straying younger wife Claire (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason)— and you get all the ingredients that playwright William Inge needs to captivate us in his exploration of bonds and how they grow or fray with circumstance. For today’s audience, Inge’s explorations may come across more as a bottling of early 60’s USA zeitgeist than was likely felt in its earlier stagings.

Start of Eclipse Theatre William Inge Showcase

It is no wonder that Eclipse Theatre has chosen William Inge as their featured playwright of the year. Vince’s soliloquy describing his depression alone makes this play important to stage--- it is quite a dramatic moment delivered perfectly by McCauley. Reading that Inge did eventually commit suicide suggests the entire Eclipse season will be similar pass-the-prozac fare.

Donnie (Terry Bell), Claire (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason), Sue (Diana Coates), and Bernie (Luke Daigle) watch Vince (Joe McCauley) go too far at a Christmas party
Vince (Joe McCauley) opens up to Bernie (Luke Daigle)

If you are seeking a night of light entertainment escapism, this is NOT your show.

During the bows, this writer couldn’t help but notice how Terry Bell still seemed overcome by the tragic part he had just played.   Indeed! We felt a need to recover too.



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.


CAST:  Ensemble members Zachery Alexander (Gil) and Joe McCauley (Vince),
and guest artists Terry Bell (Donnie), Jennifer Cheung (Other Woman), Diana Coates (Sue), Luke Daigle (Bernie), Joe Feliciano (Superintendent / Man), and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason (Claire). Understudies are Jessica Kearney (for Sue and Other Woman) and Izadorius Tortuga (for Donny and Gill).
PRODUCTION TEAM:          Eclipse ensemble members Zachery Alexander (Costume Design), Zachary Bloomfield (Casting Associate), Ashley Bowman (Production Manager),
Celeste M. Cooper (Casting Associate), Kathleen Dickinson (Production
Manager), Kevin Hagan (Lighting Design), JP Pierson (Casting Director),
Kevin Scott (Co-Producer / Set Design), and Nathaniel Swift (Co-Producer).
Guest artists include Kaycee Filson (Props Design), Rachel Flesher (Fight &
Intimacy Choreographer), Emily Iopollo (Stage Manager), Joanna Iwanicka (Set Design), Christopher Kriz (Sound Design), Rachel Lambert (Director), and Deanna Satin (Assistant Stage Manager).


Thru May 20

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.


Athenaeum Theatre
2936 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657



$30 (Discounts for Rush, Seniors or Students)

For tickets call the Athenaeum box office at  773-935-6875 or visit the Eclipse Theatre website.


PHOTOS: Scott Dray


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

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