There are few moments in theater—or in life, for that matter—where we get to sit in silence with someone hearing his or her thoughts so loud and clear. Amber (played by Brynne Barnard) is sitting in the dark and we see her only by the light of her cigarette, which is actually how we met her at the play’s opening.
The brilliance of this production, in this writer’s view, is that we know exactly what Amber is doing. In some vernaculars she might say “I’m just processing my day”, but she’s not the type to utter words like that or in any way suggest her inner life even exists, because there isn’t room for the luxury of an inner life in her day.
That day, is in many ways like every one of Amber’s days—an unrelenting stream of tasks to keep her cash-strapped family afloat as she juggles bills, two jobs, three children, mops the floor, wipes the table, prepares meals, and presses her husband to run a long list of errands to help keep their precarious lives afloat. This is also a special day, or one she hopes will be, for her daughter now turning eight, a milestone Amber feels should not go unrecognized.
Nobody might have ever noticed the Herculean effort that goes into making a birthday party like this, until the pen of playwright Emily Schwend put it into a script that was lovingly massaged by Director Georgette Verdin (who shares in the program notes how this play reminds her of her mother). By this writer’s lights, one can readily see just how easy it would have been for Patrick TJ Kelly to play his part of the sometimes straying husband in a ham-handed way, which he does not. Kevin D'Ambrosio brings his still-waters-run-deep character to life so well we ache with tenderness at knowing his so special soul. You too may find yourself especially “processing” just how perfectly Brynne Barnard and Barbara Figgins portray the intimacy of their mother-daughter bonds, where fractions-of-expressions ricochet across a kitchen table filling every second of their interactions with weight. Barnard, who is the center of almost every scene, walks a tightrope of being bitchy but endearing throughout.
In a short space, we come to both know and love these characters—all.
UTILITY is an especially good match for theater lovers who treasure slice of life realistic scripts. If you are seeking escapism, this is not your show.
In these Trumpean times it’s interesting to note that two stellar plays on Chicago’s stages—this, and Hands or a Hard Body—are about humanizing folk in red state Texas towns. We feel their pain.
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.
Brynne Barnard* (Amber), Kevin D'Ambrosio (Jim), Barbara
Figgins (Laura) and Patrick TJ Kelly (Chris).
Kerry L. Chipman (scenic design), Melissa Perkins
(costume design), Michelle E. Benda (lighting design), Erik Siegling (sound design), Adam
Borchers (properties design), Lindsay Bartlett (dialect coach), Claire Bauman (assistant
director), Richie Vavrina (production manager), Bryan Zoleta (technical director) and Jamie Kreppein (stage manager).
Playwright: Emily Schwend
Director: Artistic Director Georgette Verdin*
Through may 4, 2019
Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N.
Ridge Ave., Chicago