The Firebirds Take the Field

By Lynn Rosen.

Directed by Jessica Risch.

At Rivendell Theatre, Chicago.

Thought-provoking drama about strange female physical affection fuels world premiere.

Playwright Lynn Rosen and director Jessica Fisch have teamed up to produce a thought-provoking drama based on a real event that happened in a small New York town, LeRoy in 2011. It seems that high school female cheerleaders suddenly became afflicted with a mysterious affliction – akin to Touttette’s syndrome that has the victim’s making strange noises and manifesting strange ticks. All these were involuntary and uncontrollable movements.

When Helen Landis’s (Rebecca Spence) daughter Penelope (Jessica Erwin) becomes afflicted with the disorder, Hellen contacts an old friend who left Highland Falls 25 years ago to become a neuroscientist.  Dr. Avery Kahn reluctantly returns to help an old friend out of curiosity and remembrance of past growing up events. The locals call the ailment the “girl disease.” As Dr. Avery applies her training as a scientist to discover the cause, she bonds with the main three cheerleaders: Penelope, Lucia Bowen (Aurora Real de Asua), and Agatha Cooper (Hannah Toriumi)  as she does blood tests, etc. in order to find the problem.

The cast has the cheerleaders smartly doing cheers as well as being typical teenage girls.  We see the parents are determined to believe that the problem can not be either an emotional or psychological one due to the stigma of a ‘mental problem’  would have on the girl’s future. Kathy Bowan (Tara Mellon) believes that toxic waste and pollution are the root causes.

But as Dr. Avery’s research evolves, the mystery becomes blurred by the dynamics of each family including Avery’s past life in Highland Falls. So, is the problem physical that can be cured with meds or is the environment (drinking water, etc.) the cause? As the drama unfolds, we see the possibility that a form of “Female Hysteria” or “Conversion Disorder” could be the problem since all affected have family issues or trauma that impacts them. The pressures of growing up are explored.

This well-acted play is a combination of medical mystery, personal character sketch, and family dynamic study. The resolution is plausible, leaving room for thought. We empathise with many of the characters. Meighan Gerachis’ Dr. Avery, Jessica Erwin’s Penelope and Tara Mellon’s Kathy were particularly effective.

The Firebirds Take the Field has a charm, energy and honesty with humor that makes for an enjoyable show.

Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge, Chicago, IL,  call 773-334-7728, www.rivendelltheatre.org, tickets $28 – $38, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2hours 10 minutes with intermission.

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Rivendell Theatre

5779 N. Ridge, Chicago, IL 60660