Theatre in Review

Devastation permeates the set and plot of the Northlight Theatre’s Midwest premiere of By the Water – a powerful and moving production, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Cody Estle, about a Staten Island, New York, family dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

 

Marty and Mary Murphy (Francis Guinan and Penny Slusher) fight to save in their storm-ravaged home and campaign to keep their neighborhood together even as their life-long neighbors and friends the Carters (Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear) vow to leave and family secrets seep to the surface.

 

“In this play, natural disaster serves as a metaphor for the social and political change that forces generations to confront very real issues about their own lives – lives built on values that have become outmoded,” says Northlight Artistic Director BJ Jones. “Sharyn’s sharp sense of humor built on rich character development is sprinkled throughout, and the themes of justice and family values and loyalties emerge full-throated in her dialogue and her surprising plot.”

 

The Murphy’s are magnificently played by Guinan and Slusher, who give impressive performances imbuing the blue-collar couple with authenticity, humor and grit as they struggle to survive not only the brokenness of their community but the underlying betrayals within their family.

 

At the heart of this production is family and the idea that despite the mistakes and disloyalties as exemplified in the tattered relationship of brothers Sal Murphy (Jordan Brown) and Brian Murphy (Joel Reitsma), and the back-and-forth power struggle between Sal and his father Marty, that love and forgiveness can prevail and second chances are possible. Nowhere is this more evident than with Brian, who after a stint in jail, manages to find a second chance at love with Emily (played by Amanda Drinkall).

 

“[By the Water} is about confronting deep-seated personal problems in the face of a generational divide and finding a way to move forward,” Estle notes.

 

Rothstein developed the idea for the play after visiting Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy.

 

“Leaving behind a community, a lifetime of memories, seemed like an enormous leap of faith and an incredibly difficult decision, but the destruction was gut wrenching,” she says. “Yet, in front of one neat, clearly beloved house, a man who looked to be in his sixties was tending his lawn. With his whole neighborhood in ruins, with the majority of his neighbors already gone or figuring out how to leave, here was a man clearly standing firm. The image of him standing there amid so much loss was the genesis of my play.”

 

And that imagery is so indelibly visible in this production, which manages to peel back so many unexpected and complex layers while remaining thoroughly entertaining from its opening moments with the very effective sound effects to its poignant end. What makes this play so touching is not only the dynamic script and incredibly talented cast but the simple yet powerful stage design that evokes loss and pain as well a sense of home and place.

 

The creative team behind By the Water includes: Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), JR Lederie (lighting design), Rachel Laritz (costume design), Lindsay Jones (sound design) and Mara Filler (stage manager).

 

Highly recommended.

 

By the Water is playing at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois, until April 23. Tickets are available at online at northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In Christian O’Reilly’s Chapatti, what you get are two superb performances by two very gifted actors in John Mahoney and Penny Slusher. Directed by Artistic Director BJ Jones, Chapatti is the dark and often humorous story about the importance of companionship.

Taking place in Dublin, Ireland, we meet Dan and Betty, each lonely animal lovers, who cross paths and enter an unlikely, but much needed relationship. Dan has lost his wife, Martha, years earlier and plans to hang himself to be with her as he confesses that she needs him and is waiting for him and that she is “Incomplete without me”. As the show progresses it becomes obvious that Dan is projecting his own feelings on Martha.

Chapatti is filled with a gentle warmth at times – and can be quite cute, as the two get to know one another, but it also surrenders to heavy emotional conflicts, where stage veteran Mahoney really delivers. Really touching on how one must feel to yearn for a lost love, Chapatti depicts an astute picture of emptiness but also presents a sense of hope and how one can be freed from the shackles of despair at the most unexpected moment. Chapatti is about the bravery to move forward no matter how unfamiliar and scary it may seem.    

Slusher and Mahoney are equally impressive in their performances, embracing their roles of a dog and cat lover and creating a believable romance by two people so very desperate to have someone in their lives. It’s a love heals all theme that kicks self-pitying oneself to the curb.    

Chapatti is playing at Northlight Theatre through April 13th. For more information and/or tickets, visit www.northlight.org or call 847-673-6300. Northlight Theatre is located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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