Greenhouse Theater Center & Proxy Theatre present MIDSUMMER (A Play with Songs) Review – riotous humor and doleful honesty, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Chicago Best Play pick
Did you hear the one about the Scottishdivorce lawyer and the car thief? Probably not. By the time MIDSUMMER (A Play with Songs) is over, you will have heard a great deal. David Greig’s play about two unhappy souls making their way through a midsummer Edinburgh weekend deftly blends narration with dramatic encounter.
A highlife and a lowlife
By turns riotously funny and dolefully honest, Chaon Cross as Helena and Patrick Mulvey as Bob express inner thoughts to the audience as they rediscover themselves through each other. Their running commentary includes the time of events down to the minute, beginning with a chance meeting in a wine bar on a Friday night. It’s a place, Bob observes, full of “lawyers poking at their salads.” Helena is one of those lawyers, but she doesn’t have a healthful salad, just a bottle of wine. She seldom does what’s good for herself.
When her married lover stands her up via text, she approaches Bob, sitting alone with a copy of Dostoevsky, to share her wine. A thoughtful man, Bob is no better than Helena when it comes to doing what’s good for himself. He scratches out a living from petty crimes that are supervised by a thug named Tiny Tom. Highlife Helena and lowlife Bob drink themselves into a stupor and end up in Helena’s upscale apartment. As gifted physically as they are vocally, Cross and Mulvey manage to be convincing yet tasteful in their wild lovemaking.
Elmo and a ukulele
Directed by Randy White, Grieg’s script undercuts nearly every moment with something irreverent that nonetheless rings true. Amid bedroom gymnastics, a mechanical voice intones “Elmo wants a cuddle.” The couple pull Elmo from the bedsheets, left behind after a visit from Helena’s young nephew. When Helena puts the toy on a stool, Bob insist on turning its face to the wall.
In a scene that strikes this viewer as worth the price of admission, Bob leaves Helena’s apartment afterwards and has a conversation with his penis. “Everything I do, I do for you” he tells it. The morning after, Helena muses to herself, “If my hangover was a dog, he’d be dead.” Adds Bob to himself, “If my hangover was a ship, it would sink.” And so goes the gallows humor.
Specifically described as “a play with songs,” MIDSUMMER has Cross strumming a ukulele and Mulvey a guitar as they bookend scenes with the music of Scottish indie composer Gordon McIntyre. The lyrics lend a touch of rom-com – “Love will break your heart in two” – while the script itself hits tougher notes.
An age of reckoning at the Greenhouse Theater Center
Helena and Bob keep groping for each other as they pursue self-destructive paths, tumbling into outrageous adventures much as they tumbled into bed the first night. These involve the Elmo-cuddling nephew slipping on his aunt’s “sick” on cathedral steps, a supermarket bag with cash from a stolen pink car, Japanese bondage in a fetish club and distributing fine wine to random Icelandic students on the street.
In the “long, slow haul towards death,” Helena and Bob are both at the same point, 35, which may strike some in the audience as ancient and others as mere childhood. From any vantage point, mid-30s is an age of reckoning. MIDSUMMER (A Play with Songs) entertains the possibility that a divorce lawyer and a car thief can use a long weekend in Edinburgh to turn self-destruction into a story of reinvention.
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
Chaon Cross & Patrick Mulvey
David Greig (playwright), Gordon McIntyre (music), Randy White (director), Mark Smith (scenic design), Ellen MacKay (costume design), Brandon Wardell (lighting design), Anthony Churchill (sound and production design), Dan Plehal (movement design), Becca McCracken (casting director), Ron Rude (production manager) and Andrew Hatcher (stage manager).
Now through October 6
Wednesdays at 7:30 PM
Thursdays & Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 3:00 & 8:00 PM
Sundays at 3:00 PM
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.