Review: Chicago Dramatists’ ‘Lucinda’s Bed”

Is “being good” all it’s cracked up to be?

 

Chicago Dramatists present:

Lucinda’s Bed

By Mia McCullough
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Keith Ecker

Chicago Dramatist’s Lucinda’s Bed is a thorough character study of a woman striving to be good and her unrealized desires personified as the childhood monster that sleeps under her bed. The world premier play serves as a psychoanalytic narrative that dissects the self, forcing the title character to struggle between fulfilling the expectations of others and acting upon the very real wants that she secretly harbors within.

The story follows Lucinda (Elizabeth Laidlaw), beginning as a 9-year-old. It is at this early stage that she encounters the monster (Lucas Neff), a nonchalant, smooth-talking seducer who creeps out from under her bed in a pool of red light. It is here that the monster reveals he will be with Lucinda always and that he will never go away, foreshadowing the struggles to come.

Time passes and we see Lucinda go through various life milestones, from meeting her high school sweetheart to college to marriage to motherhood. Throughout these scenes, the monster makes regular appearances, shrouding himself as other characters, each representative of Lucinda’s suppressed desires. Meanwhile, her husband Adam (Doug MacKechnie), a man she herself pigeonholes as a “nice guy,” becomes increasingly frustrated with Lucinda’s erratic behavior, creating havoc within the marriage. Lucinda continues to unravel at the seams as she is perpetually torn between doing what she perceives to be good and what she truly desires. Added to her character’s complexity is the continued realization that being good isn’t very rewarding, while being true to one’s character—regardless of praise or condemnation—might actually be the best way to live one’s life.

Mia McCullough’s script could easily have fallen into the trap of parable, but thanks to her skillful writing, she has done a brilliant job creating real, multi-faceted characters that rise above any sort of archetypical cliché. In addition, she artfully interweaves laugh-out-loud comedic moments throughout, avoiding any feeling of melodrama that might arise from the series of unfortunate incidents that become Lucinda’s life (a scene where a pregnant, bed-ridden Lucinda screams for a popsicle had the audience howling).

Laidlaw brings the complex Lucinda to life, imbuing the character with a rich spectrum of emotions. Slowly and genuinely transforming a naïve little girl into a hardened ice queen is no easy feat. But Laidlaw pulls it off flawlessly, tying together all of Lucinda’s experiences and personality ticks convincingly.

Meanwhile, MacKechnie is believable as Lucinda’s modest and loving husband, but definitely excels most when portraying the character later in life. At times, his interpretation of a love-struck high schooler verges on cartoonish, detracting from the reality of the scenes. Neff has his work cut out for him portraying the various incarnations of the monster, including a chauvinistic college student, a perplexed plumber and a rather forward store clerk. As well executed as these manifestations are, there seems to be a spark lacking from his portrayal as the monster. You would think that passion personified would have more passion, but alas, Neff seems rather bored.

Director Jessi D. Hill artfully uses the simple staging, which entirely takes place within a bedroom, to create vivid and dramatic slice-of-life scenes. Sound effects, such as a ticking clock, are well placed to give a sense of time passing. Meanwhile her use of shifting wall art serves as insightful demarcations of time, both in the physical sense and in the sense of where the characters are in their lives.

Closing October 9th, there’s little time left to see this thought-provoking production.  Perhaps the play will be picked up and moved out East, as two other Chicago Dramatists plays have done: A Steady Rain is currently running on Broadway, while a 2002 production called The Liquid Moon was just optioned by the same producers.

Frightening and fatalistic, the thematic ideas within Lucinda’s Bed speak to all of us who strive to figure out what is good, what is right and whether the two aren’t always overlapping. Actors execute the play with realism while incorporating the fanciful in a compellingly written tale where monsters cry too. Do not miss this play.