Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lakefront Property - Bruised Orange Theatre Company (theatre review)

Welcome to Chicago, all you new ones, all you people from elsewhere who came here for reasons obvious and hidden.  Welcome to the snow and ice, lights and trains, buildings and food.  Welcome to you all, and know that you aren't alone ever, ever...even in your dreams which are fading already from the night before.

I was a new one once...12 years ago.  I came to Chicago right after I graduated from college with my degree in fakery and 5 years of arrested adolescence under my belt.  I really didn't have any idea why I was here, except that I knew that Chicago was some kind of place for me to go and "do" theatre and "be" an artist.  Now, 12 years later I have a wife and a condo and a baby on the way and a load of friends and colleagues and a little too much around the middle and a taste for good barbeque and a penchant for expensive beer.  I guess I "did" some theater and I left some "piles" of art on various tiny stages around the North Side.  I'll leave that decision to Nina Metz, ultimately.

I tell you all this because I saw BOTC's Lakefront Property last Friday night at the Acme Art Works in Wicker Park...and it caused one of those flashbacks that brings you back to such a specific time and mindset that it was a bit staggering and lovely.  Lakefront Property is a show that is haunting you, breaking your heart the entire time.  It's about ghosts, and being wrong, and then not caring about what is actually right.  Because everything is a shade of grey and hidden, because if we knew the inner workings of everyone we met we'd cry all the time.

The show is about two real people named Pokey and Kyla, living in the same lakefront highrise apartment building.  In the beginning, they are alone and separate and living in their own fantasies/nightmares.  Jeff Harris plays Pokey as an everyman.  A nice person who is lonely and aching inside for something.  Harris longing for really anything to connect with is the heart of the show.  This urban disconnection is a theme that replays itself through the show...what do you end up doing when you are so removed from everyone?  When your life plays out the same way everyday and you find you cannot gather the ambition to change?  In Pokey's case he creates an imaginary girlfriend named Trisha, played with controlled chaos by the fierce Ann Sonneville.  There is a common character in some of the more modern romantic comedies The Onion has labeled the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" (Natalie Portman in Garden State, etc.) who saves the lead male from a life of boredom and numbness.  Sonneville plays this archetype with an UZI in each hand and straight razor hidden in her bra.  It's a fearless performance.  Trish both comforts Pokey and tears him to shreds when she deems it necessary.  Of course, it's actually Pokey doing any deeming here, and he is completely aware of this horrible doublethink in which he has caught himself.  The actors share an easy chemistry and explore a volatile and dangerous relationship.

(Personal aside:  Pokey has a beautiful analysis of the terrible and wonderful chunk of Chicago classic rock "Lake Shore Drive."  I thought I was the only one to really explore this song's inherent madness, but author Clint Sheffer and I share a common mania for the guilty pleasures of overbaked hippie rock, it seems.  Check this song out here...you'll love and hate it.)

Elsewhere in the highrise lives Kyla, a eightball snorting waitress with some kind of death wish.  Played with troubling intensity by Stephanie Polt, Kyla longs for a way to connect but also needs to shut everyone and everything out.  She meets a ghost named Harold (a sharp and menacing performance from David Bettino) and brings him home.  I wondered if this was an actual ghost, or just another imaginary friend/fiend.  Harold treats Kyla with a sort of terrible love, and sees her as a companion in death.  Are these only Kyla's suicidal thoughts made into a living and unhinged hallucination?

Eventually Pokey and Kyla meet and have a stumbling evening of beer and drugs and, finally, real connection to another human being.  Of course, their respective false/real lovers are not too happy about this and there is a real sense of dread in the idea of your mind trying to stop itself from achieving what you might really need.

This show is a dark and moody poem to being alone with your thoughts and having no way to control them.  Director Mark Spence utilizes the Acme Art Works space in surprising ways.  This is not a traditional storefront.  The play takes place in a huge and nearly decaying church, stained glass of apostles and Jesus in all.  I spoke with him a bit after the piece, and I compared the room to a Fundamentalist Christian church I knew from my childhood.  It suits the script perfectly, seeing that the workings of your own mind can house an infinite space filled with ghosts and memories and time past.

I admire writer Clint Sheffer's ambition and insight into a condition he must have experienced for himself.  The play ends with a great sense of hope, which the characters have definitely earned.  The result is a stark and affecting story about this city and the lost and joyous and frightened people that call it home.

It's got three more performances.  Really, go see this play.  I think all the new ones and the old ones (like myself) can see themselves in it.

Lakefront Property - A

-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer

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