Many years ago I gave the homily at a friend’s wedding: I said that instead of crystal and silver, the most lasting and symbolic wedding gift might just be an industrial sized roll of duct tape and a box of high quality cleaning rags. In Red Orchid’s latest show In Quietness, playwright Anna Ouyang Moench excavates the truth of this advice.
A husband cheats on his wife and his mistress is hit by a vehicle and is unresponsive and on life support. He broadsides his workaholic wife with his confession of the affair. In his guilt,Paul is born again, and to save the marriage or cope with his guilt or somehow make amends or make a deal with God, he heads to seminary in Fort Worth and his high powered executive wife sacrifices her career to accompany him, taking a job at The Homemaking House (this is a real thing!) to learn to be a good pastor’s wife. Joe Edward Metcalfe plays the self involved and emotionally stunted husband who has been living off the benefits afforded him by his wife’s labor. Brittany Burch is the strong, complex wife Max, who goes all in for anything she commits to, her marriage being that big thing. At the Hospitality House she is roomed with Beth, played by the fiercely evangelical Alexandra Chopson as a character whose fundamental nature is at odds with her values. Adam Shalzi makes a brief and surprising appearance as Beth’s ex significant other. And Kirsten Fitzgerald invokes an entire culture with her portrayal of Terri the overbearing Hospitality House matriarch.
Living with other people is complicated. I did not understand the fundamental operating systems of any of the characters as the drama started, but by the unexpected, compassionate and emotionally nuanced end, I had come to empathize and comprehend where these individuals were coming from. And perhaps I was even rooting for them to succeed though what that would cost them or mean was not clear. Director Dado, who seems of late to be masterfully exploring layered and not very comfortable domesticity, here strips bare the troublesome compromises and perilous re-calibrations needed to stay in relationship to others. In real life with love there are no completely happy endings. There’s dirt. And adhesives.
This is a play where every character mightily places psychological duct tape on their lives in an attempt to hold their world together, even as the ladies of the Housekeeping House valiantly apply rags and Windex to clean up the mess we humans make of our lives with each other.
This is a subtly remarkable evening. In Quietness is playing Thursdays through Sundays through March 3, 2024 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town. For tickets and information go to www.aredorchidtheatre.org