Climbing the steps to the third floor of a residential building just blocks from Wrigley Field, a guide informs us that we are welcome to poke around Joanna and Paul’s living room while they were away, just so long as nobody meddles with their smoking paraphernalia. After entering their home, the room we are in is small, with ten chairs lined around its perimeter. A record player’s song filled the intimate space, mixing with the whirring of fans on a hot summer evening. A children’s book--The Big Orange in the Sky--lays on the coffee table. You’re welcome to thumb through some National Geographics on a bookcase before taking a seat. With each opening of the apartment door, a sense of anticipation swelled amongst those gathered, as another audience member joined the room.
At last, the room reached its capacity (there were ten of us in total), and the next person to walk through the door was Joanna, who made a beeline to the answering machine. As she listened to the voicemail left by a mechanic, she grabbed a pen to take note of the number he’d requested her to call him back at. Halfway through his message, the power failed. The fans stopped. The lights faded. And Joanna couldn’t get the breaker box to turn back on.
In promotional materials for The Residents’ world premiere production, MAVIS; or, The Voyeur’s Comedy, patrons are advised that the performance will take place in “Paul and Joanna’s two bedroom apartment in Wrigleyville.” While not truly inhabited by Paul and Joanna (the pair are actually characters in the play, portrayed by actors Bryan Breau and Claire Mahave, respectively), the performance does literally occur in an apartment in Wrigleyville. Its intimacy, unique setting, and powerful ensemble make it one of the not-to-miss theatrical experiences of the summer.
Taking "Intimate" Theatre to the Next Level
Written by Christopher vanDer Ark, and directed by Bec Willet, MAVIS crams its audience and cast of four into a small space and slowly lets everyone stew in the resulting heat. Literally, of course, as was the case on the 90 degree Sunday evening in which we all found ourselves paying visit to Joanna and Paul. The power outage, you see, is a key incident in MAVIS’ plot. vanDer Ark’s play begins subtly, a sort of millennial comedy of manners. One by one we are introduced to the cast of four: there’s Joanna, a washed up children’s author; Paul, the owner of a restaurant; Danni (Elaine C. Bell), a friend of the pair who files insurance claims; and Mitzi (Nicole Nola), Paul’s date for the evening and a Columbia College Chicago junior majoring in Communications and Gender and Women’s Studies.
A Compelling Cast of Four
In a space so small you could hear a pin drop, there’s no room for error in any of these actors’ performances. Thanks to Willet’s capable, nuanced direction and vanDer Ark’s ear for the ebb and flow of contemporary speech, there’s no need to worry, as Breau, Mahave, Bell, and Nola all turn in exceptionally fine-tuned performances. Every pause, sideways glance, even each actor’s breath registers in the intimacy of the performance space. The cumulative effect, as the title would suggest, is something of a voyeur’s comedy. Chuckles are to be found here and there, although it probably depends on your sense of humor. Nola’s enthusiastic description of her work at the Container Store is hilarious, as is Bell’s more non-chalant delivery of lines that communicate her acceptance of life’s mediocrity.
Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? courses through the veins of Mavis’ best scenes, escalating into a warped and desperate kind of amusement that is both a riveting spectacle and a blatant cry for a sympathetic audience. In the play’s final minutes, Breau and Mahave turn in their best work, baring their souls mere inches from the audience's seats.
The Residents’ Inaugural Production Lays A Strong Foundation
For its inaugural production, The Residents deliver on their promise “to produce fully realized productions in non-traditional spaces for as intimate an audience as the space requires.”
Mavis is as detailed as it is richly layered, thanks to Willet, vanDer Ark, and their impressive cast. Equally as impressive is the piece’s carefully orchestrated stage management (Xavier Lagunas keeps the clockwork moving), as cell phones ring and homeless men shout out three stories below in perfect synchronicity with the actors’ performances. What’s more, in such a small venue, the performance really feels like it is for you; there’s not a dull minute in Mavis, as you find yourself wrapped up in the lives of its characters. If The Residents’ next production showcases an equally hardworking team of artists, it will surely be worth the trip to wherever they think up next.
August 18 – 27 with possible extension August 31- September 3.
All performances are at 7:00pm.
Exact address available on purchase of ticket.
Tickets and information are available at https://goo.gl/NEYz3c.
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.