Stranger and Stranger Things at Facility
The beautifully crafted and disorienting play Right Now now on at Humboldt Park’s Facility Theatre is the kind of storefront theater that makes Chicago second to none for mind altering drama. From the exquisitely rendered characters created by the ensemble and Catherine-Anne Toupin’s taughtly written script, to Kirk Anderson’s perfect set to Natasha Vuchurovich Dukich’s Vogue worthy costume design to Santiago Quintana’s evocative sound design, every aspect of this experience in the newly updated theater space on California is spot on. It is a stunning work by one of Chicago's most important women directors, dado, who is fearless at exploring the shadow side of human existence.
This play is not a linear narrative. It is a surreal journey into what is or is not reality, with a kind of Stepford Wives meets Twilight Zone twistededness. The ending made the audience gasp.
Alice, played with sensual abandon and arch discomfort by Maria Stephens, is a new stay at home mom moved into a new flat with her hard working and oft absent doctor husband Ben, played with dissociative handsomeness by Josh Odor. We meet the vaguely unsettling family next door led by the commanding and intrusive Juliette played by the astounding Shawna Franks, who is at first only a hand attached to a long arm coming in through a latched door, a visual stroke of genius by director dado because it only gets odder and odder. Another brilliant visual leitmotif is the low lit dancing with abandon by cast members and transitions between scenes which served to underscore the energy of domesticity going off the rails.
We meet Juliette’s son Francois, the preternaturally pretty Elliot Baker and finally the dad Gilles played with creepy brightness by Kirk Anderson. Everything is too perfect and when the wine bottles come out, so many wine bottles, inhibitions and structures fall apart. This is a dark existential tragedy slithering in the bleakness that lurks beneath our best intentions. But it's also funny and stylish and so well done that you don’t necessarily notice the poison in the beverage you are sipping.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, because it winds out, loops back and goes in directions you don’t expect, and ends in stunning fashion. You will have many questions when it is over: what was real? What was a hallucination? Was the whole thing post partum hallucinations? Is everyone crazy? Who is real? You come to really like most of the characters but also know you never want any of them in your intimate circle. The play feels like the ground is constantly shifting beneath you.
You will want to go to the bar down the way when its over and talk about what you just went through. This is deep thoughtful theater that makes you question your life because maybe you are a little bit Alice or afraid you are a Francois. God help you if you are a Ben. And most of us have a Juliette in our life. Like the Tarot card that advertises this show, when you pull one of these characters there in your living room, what will you do with this information?
Right Now is playing at Facility Theatre, 1138 N California in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood Thursdays through Saturdays at 7.30 pm through December 9. For tickets and information go to https://facilitytheatre.org/2023-24-season/right-now-catherine-anne-toupin
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