Review – “Graceland” at Profiles Theatre

The highly-recommended "Graceland", now playing at Profiles Theatre

By Ellen Fairey
Now extended through August 16th
Profiles Theatre

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

Four lonely lives in the northside of Chicago intersect in Ellen Fairey’s creative story Graceland. The buzzing of fighter jets flying high above in the air show and the non-stop mention of the characters displeasure with the new smoking ban reminds us that the story takes place here at home. Sara (Brenda Barrie) and Sam (Eric Burgher) are struggling to understand their father’s recent suicide, and to cope with their own isolated lives. Frequently taking place at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, the story touches on the loneliness that that one can feel even while surrounded by people in a large populated city.

HORIZONTALSara is a single middle-class woman with obvious interweaving personal problems, and layers of complicated worries that are untold to the audience. In the opening scene Brenda expresses a sense of anxiety that is within Sara. She speaks and scutters around as if she has so many thoughts running through her head that she is unable to articulate them all. Sara is bothered by her brother’s sense of indifference and she jumps from one topic to another trying to get an emotional reaction from her brother Sam. 

On the exterior Sam is an emotionally cool, even-keeled young adult who does not over-react to the highs and lows in life. He hides his pain with hits from his bowl and tries to act as the rational one in their time of crisis. Sam is also dealing with the loneliness caused by his father before he died, when his father started sleeping with his ex girlfriend Anna (Somer Benson.) Partially to drown their sorrows with a beer and in part to find out more information on their father, the two leave and head to a local northside dive bar that their Dad frequented often.

"Graceland", now being performed at Profiles Theatre Sara’s drunken night at the bar does nothing but worsen her complicated situation. She ends up going back for a night cap with a smooth talking divorced patron from the bar with the motive of finding out more information on her father, but her desire for companionship leads to more. Waking up from a one-night stand with Joe (Darell W. Cox) and wearing nothing but his Chicago Bulls warm-up shirt, she is surprised to run into a familiar boy she met at the cemetery.

Joe’s son Miles (Jackson Challinor) is an only child from a broken home. His loneliness is expressed in his openness with strangers and desire for deeper conversation. Even with Sara’s obvious discomfort, Miles is not shy in talking about his father’s sex life with her or his father’s previous ladies. He his open with his own flirtations and mature in his comfort with older woman, and this leads to trouble.

As the four lives collide, we see the pain of loneliness and the regretful paths that it can cause people to choose. We also see the significance of random encounters, and the importance of the brief connections we make with each other.

Ellen Fairey’s comedic drama entangles a variety of complications within the four characters (and a surprising fifth near the end) to depict the loneliness the can occur even while surrounded by others in a crowded city. Her story moves with constant new developments that keep the personal turmoil within the characters building. Her choice of Chicago’s northside as the setting for her play, makes it that much more enjoyable for Profiles Theatre’s hometown audience.

Matthew Miller direction of Graceland keeps the action simple, and allows the dialogue and story to move the plot along. Mikhail Fiksel must have really enjoyed his role in the play creating the fantastic sound effects of fighter jets screaming overhead. William Anderson’s choice in the smaller details, like the Chicago Cubs Pennants hanging in Joe’s apartment and the floor made to look like grass with slender sidewalks, create a simple yet realistic setting that allows the audience to imagine the scene that is surrounding the characters throughout the different acts.

I wonder about the motive of the consistent rants against the smoking-ban. The cast was allowed to smoke in the last play (Great Falls by Lee Blessing) that I attended at Profiles Theatre, and that was after the smoking-ban took effect, what changed? Were the negative comments regarding the smoking ban a statement by Profiles Theatre due to being forbidden to smoke within their own theatre, or was it part of the script to help identify with the attitude of many middle-class young adults? Something leads me to think this was a personal statement by Profiles Theatre. One that disagrees with the effects the smoking ban has on the realism of performing certain acts.

Overall all of the actresses and actors did a wonderful job of creating distinct individuals. Brenda Barrie gives Sara depth beyond her verbal dialogue. In the beginning of the performance the conversations between each actress/actor felt real and unscripted, although as the play ran on some of the lines came off overly practiced and without sincere emotion behind their words. With the exception of Erick Burgher, who from start to finish stood out with his focus and complete transformation in to his character (Sam.)

Due to popular demand Graceland has now been extended through August 16th, and starting July 11th there will be an additional Saturday Matinee at 5:00pm. This is a great opportunity to see a Chicago-based play that will make you laugh and keep you talking about the events that take place in the play long after you leave the theatre.

Rating: «««

Where: Profiles Theatre
When: through: August 16th
(Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8 pm/Sun 7 pm, Saturday Matinees at 5 pm on July 11, 18, 25, August 1, 8, 15)
Tickets: Buy online at or call (773) 549-1815

For complete actor bios, click on “Read more”

The cast of GRACELAND features Profiles ensemble members Somer Benson, Eric Burgher and Darrell W. Cox.

Somer Benson was most recently seen this season as Lisa in Profiles’ U.S. premiere of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA and as Diane in the Midwest Premiere of THE THUGS by Adam Bock. Last season, she was seen in “Coax” as part of Profiles’ Midwest premiere of THINGS WE SAID TODAY by Neil LaBute.

Eric Burgher most recently appeared in Profiles’ productions of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA and MEN OF TORTUGA. Last season, he appeared in THIS IS HOW IT GOES by Neil LaBute and “Land of the Dead” as part of Profiles’ Midwest Premiere of LaBute shorts, THINGS WE SAID TODAY. Prior to that, he appeared as Carter in the Midwest Premiere of FAT PIG by Neil LaBute.

Darrell W. Cox was most recently seen at Profiles as the stepfather in Profiles’ Midwest Premiere of GREAT FALLS by Lee Blessing. Prior to that, he was seen as Taggart in Profiles’ first full Chicago production of MEN OF TORTUGA and the Midwest Premieres of IN A DARK DARK HOUSE and SOME GIRL(S). He recently appeared in the Chicago Premiere of Leigh Fondakowski’s THE PEOPLE’S TEMPLE at American Theatre Company as Jim Jones and Stephan Jones. He has appeared at Steppenwolf in the World Premiere of MEN OF TORTUGA (where he originated the role of Taggart), the Midwest Premiere of ORANGE FLOWER WATER (which traveled to the Galway Arts Festival), and the World Premiere of WENDALL GREENE. He has also appeared at the Goodman in THE SHAWL and HOME as part of the David Mamet Festival and the World Premiere of MARTIN FUREY’S SHOT at TimeLine Theatre, among others.

Making their Profiles debuts, the cast also features Brenda Barrie as Sara and Jackson Challinor as Miles.

Brenda has appeared in the title role in the world premiere of Mariette in Ecstasy with Lifeline Theatre and Blanche Dubois in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE with Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. As an ensemble member with Backstage Theatre Company, she’s performed in How I Learned to Drive, Waiting for Lefty and the Chicago premiere of Beauty on the Vine.

Jackson Challinor recently appeared in the critically acclaimed production of A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT at A Red Orchid Theatre, A NEW NATION at Prop Thtr, LET THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN at Apple Tree Theatre and HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES at Halcyon Theatre.

5 Responses

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  4. […] a hat trick with the production. Coming on the heels of The Mercy Seat (our review) and Graceland (our review), this is her third role running at Profiles that defines the very notion of excellence. As […]

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