Review: A Twist of Water (Route 66 Theatre)

  
  

Now extended through June 26th!!

An ode to family, hardship, rebirth: A contemporary masterpiece

  
  

Stef Tovar in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'.  Projections by John Boesche.

  
Route 66 Theatre Company presents
       
A Twist of Water
  
Written by Caitlin Montanye Parrish
Co-Created and Directed by Erica L. Weiss
at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago
through June 26  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Route 66 Theatre‘s world premier of A Twist of Water accomplishes a rare theatrical feat. It balances genuine poignancy with sharp wit all while evoking real human emotion. There is nothing maudlin about this play. There is no contrivance or trite scenarios. You will cry real tears as you sympathize with the fictional characters who feel very, very real.

The play is about a family, Noah (Stef Tovar) and his adopted daughter Jira (Falashay Pearson). Noah’s long-time partner and Jira’s other father recently passed away in a tragic accident. As the two cope with the loss, the death begins to serve as an invisible wedge that drives them apart.

Falashay Pearson and Stef Tovar in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'. Noah seeks solace in his youthful colleague Liam (Alex Hugh Brown), who has an affinity for Carl Sandburg. Both are teachers, and, to complicate matters, Liam is Jira’s instructor. This places Liam in a precarious situation, where one loyalty rests with Jira as her teacher and another with Noah as his potential lover.

Meanwhile, Jira wishes to expand the scope of her family, and so she seeks out her birth mother. Noah takes this as a personal condemnation of his parenthood, further splitting father and daughter apart. Their relationship is further fleshed out as we discover just what happened in the hospital the day that Noah’s partner died.

Throughout, we hear Noah’s inner thoughts through a series of monologues. These monologues, beautifully told and breathtakingly staged, compare the hope, destruction and rebirth of his life with that of the city of Chicago, from its original founding to the Great Fire to the rebuilding. It’s a lovely and poetic parallel that effectively conveys the protagonist’s personal evolution.

Playwright Caitlin Montanye Parrish, along with director and co-creator Erica Weiss, have put to paper a contemporary masterpiece. This script is tight. Liam’s snarky humor is punchy and laugh-out-loud funny. Emotionally charged scenes crescendo and decrescendo organically. Each character’s histories are examined, providing the audience with necessary insights into their motivations. There are no questions left unanswered that demand an answer. It’s such a welcome sight to see a script produced that has undergone a complete and thorough editing process before being put to the stage.

Tovar’s portrayal of Noah is realistically complex. He adeptly performs the range of emotions required of this layered play. In one scene, he is a lovestruck widower. In another, he’s a heartbroken father. No matter what, he’s always convincing.

Meanwhile, young Pearson—who is making her post-collegiate theatrical debut—holds her own. She portrays Jira as an emotionally confused teenager while steering clear of melodrama. As for Brown, his confident, subdued portrayal of Liam is perfectly paired with Tovar’s angsty Noah.

I would be remiss to not make mention of the scenic design, which is practically a character itself. Developed collaboratively by Stephen H. Carmody, Sean Mallary and John Boesche, the stage is a three-dimensional blank canvas that is colored by a shifting series of projections. It allows the characters to exist in both real space and metaphysical environments.

A Twist of Water is an important play that speaks to our time. Hopefully it will see an extended run because it deserves a large audience. Just remember to bring a tissue because, when I saw it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Stef Tovar and Alex Hugh Brown in a scene from Route 66 Theatre's 'A Twist of Water'.

A Twist of Water continues through June 26th, with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm. All performances at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport.  More info at http://twistofwater.wordpress.com/about/.

  
  

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Review: Samuel J. and K. (Steppenwolf Theatre)

  
  

Steppenwolf Young Adults feature plays it loose with plausibility, plot

  
  

Cliff Chamberlain and Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. in a scene from Mat Smart's 'Samuel J. and K." at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.  Photo by Peter Coombs.

  
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
   
Samuel J. and K.
   
Written by Mat Smart
Directed by
Ron OJ Parson
at
Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through March 13  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

There’s no shortage of local shout-outs in director Ron OJ Parson’s Naperville-based family drama. Its dialogue makes generous references to landmark spots and (much to the amusement of the opening morning’s audience) a neighboring rivalry. In promotional materials, playwright and suburban native Mat Smart suggests elements of the play are semi-biographical. The Young Adults presentation will play to many teens who directly relate to its characters and their circumstances. This play wants to be relevant, and wants to be real.

Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. and Cliff Chamberlain in a scene from Mat Smart's 'Samuel J. and K." at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.  Photo by Peter Coombs.Its themes—identity, fate, racial definition, nature vs. nurture, brotherly love—are. So why do the stakes in Samuel J. and K. feel so low? And its story, lacking in authenticity?

Before adopted, black Samuel K. (Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.) walks to receive his college diploma, he and his older white brother Samuel J. (Cliff Chamberlain) indulge in a family tradition down at the basketball court. Too eager to wait, reaction-snap-cam in-hand, J. halts the game and begs K. to open his gift envelope; it contains two expensive, non-refundable, unsolicited and unwanted tickets to J.’s birth city in Cameroon.

Before the first pick-up game is over, the inciting argument comes to a head.

It’s also the audience’s first cue for a small suspension of disbelief: these Sams love each other and are close enough to talk smack and hip-check each other into chain link fences, but they’ve never had the adoptive ‘where is home really’ talk before? At that age? Having not yet built an understanding of the brothers’ dynamic, we’re launched into an issues talk before the relationship study has gotten a chance to get off the ground.

No sooner than we can ponder the implications of the gift or the risk of the trip are we whisked away to a mosquito net-lined bed in Africa—on the last day of the vacation.

Points where one would expect build—the inevitable second discussion (there had to have been more than one), the anxieties leading up to the trip, the arrival—are skipped over, making room for barely conceivable twists, including a borderline absurd subplot involving a mutual romantic interest. It’s a limp, manipulative device seemingly employed for no other purpose than to conjure a requisite “you’re not my real brother!”

Chamberlain makes do with his character’s under-supported choices, lending credibility to some of the play’s more outlandish ideas. As K., Roberson, Jr. has the tendency to over act, the perception of which is compounded by the valleys and holes in Smart’s script.

Lacking enough logic to create dramatic build, Samuel J. and K. is a two-man show in which the eponymous characters remain elusive. What are audiences—young or old—supposed to glean from that?

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. and Cliff Chamberlain in a scene from Mat Smart's 'Samuel J. and K." at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.  Photo by Peter Coombs.

  
  
 

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