Raven Theatre Company Presents SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON Review- Music shines in this family drama
The sound of guitars and a fiddle drowns out the persistent hum of crickets on a hot summer evening in a small town in the south. Three, sometimes four, voices sing in harmony as the upbeat song fills the blue misty air. The melody washes over the audience and the family we are watching on stage. We see twin sisters Ray and Joey with their father and close family friends feeling at home again, if only for a moment during the song.
Raven Theatre Company Opens Their 37th Season
Raven Theatre Company opens their 37th season with Rachel Bond’s Sundown, Yellow Moon. We follow Ray (Liz Chidester) and Joey (Diana Coates) as they travel back to their hometown to check on their dad Tom (Will Casey) who has recently been suspended from his job teaching for an angry outburst. Both twins are at a crossroads.Ray is plagued with questions over if she wants to pursue music and her love life. Joey is dealing with mounting pressure as she is about to embark on a Fulbright scholarship and move to Berlin for two years. Tom is managing the fallout from his outburst with help from counselor Carver (Jordan Dell Harris). We know, because we are with them in a small town, that he is still haunted by a tragic event in his past. Ray attempts to figure out exactly what happened with her Dad. Meanwhile Joey, while spending more time running away from her family, encounters a married poet Ted (Josh Odor) with whom she immediately has a strong connection.
Chidester and Coates deliver strong performances as the two sisters, in this writer’s view. They each display honest emotional vulnerability as they figure out their futures and navigate their relationship with their father, each other, and the other folks in this small town. Casey’s emotional mutability helps us to connect with his character-- an always loving and sometimes angry man who is clearly deeply ashamed about what he’s done and struggling to cope. Harris as Tom’s counselor is another standout, especially moving as he helps Tom deal with his past. We get to know Tom intimately in several quiet moments—alone, while contemplating the past and agonizing over what could have been.'
One special note about this cast that might similarly impact some audience members as it did this writer-- Raven Theatre actively embraces colorblind casting, and the biological twin sisters in this play are played by a Black woman and a white woman which may create a disconnect you will need to actively tune out. That said, this play is not meant to be in any way about racism in our world—and this is exactly what colorblind casting can mean.
Tom’s cabin takes up a bulk of the set by designer Jeffery D. Kmiec. We see the front room, kitchen, and front porch of his rustic wood cabin surrounded by vertical planks that act as the trees enveloping most of the stage. The rest is devoted to a raised wood platform that acts as the town’s reservoir. The effect is that we are immediately transported to this small town in this cabin in the woods. The trees obscure parts of the stage and give an almost other-worldly quality to the space. Lighting Designer Becca Jeffords adds to this by using blue tones that create a melancholy atmosphere enhancing the emotional journeys in the story. Combined, the set and lights allows us to feel perfectly at home in certain moments and distant, as if in a dream, in others. We get the feeling of visiting our hometown again after being away—familiar, and yet, not the same.
This play is very much a story of people who are unable to say what they feel but can express it through song. The music, by The Bengsons, allows the characters to fully express themselves and offer brief moments of total honesty. We see both the family and their friends use song to move past the things that are holding them back. Songs help them reconnect with each other.
Sundown, Yellow Moon is a play that leaves much unsaid. In this writer’s opinion, the overall pace of the production felt quite slow and as a result the progress made by the characters felt minimal.
This play is ideal for lovers of country and folk music and those who enjoy slow-paced family dramas.
Jordan Dell Harris
Jeanne T. Arrigo
Writer: Rachel Bonds
Music and Lyrics: The Bengsons
Music Direction: Andra Velis Simon
Director: Cody Estle
Scenic Design: Jeffery D. Kmiec
Costume Design: Izumi Inaba
Lighting Design: Becca Jeffords
Sound Design: Eric Backus
Dialect Coach: Elise Kauzlaric
Carting Director: Catherine Miller
Stage Manager: Wilhelm Peters
Artistic Producer: Cole von Glahn
Technical Director: Bobby Huggins
Scenic Artist: Jessie Howe
Assistant Director: Ashley Brenon
Assistant Stage Manager: Kate Nagorski
Assistant Cosume Designer: Ian Liberman
Master Electrician: Liz Gomez
Music Captain: Chris Farrell, Jr.
Through November 17th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3:00 pm
6157 N Clark St
Chicago, Il 60660
About the Author
Taryn Smith, Chicago Communities Associate Editor, graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
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