By Tommy Lee Johnston
Directed by Jan Ellen Graves
At Redtwist Theatre
Aura is a clever, well thought out fable
“If people keep calling you crazy, you will become crazy.” –Mike from Aura
Redtwist Theatre continues their fine productions with playwright Tommy Lee Johnston’s world premiere fable, Aura. This is an excellent play—filled with humor, memorable characters and a thought provoking theme.
It is rare that a playwright also doubles as the lead actor in his own work—but Tommy Lee Johnston is perfect as the eccentric man who can see color auras surrounding others. His talent or curse allows him to feel a person’s emotions whether their vitality or their imminent demise.
Utilizing Director/set designer Jan Ellen Graves’ park set complete with flying birds and hungry squirrels, Aura finds Earl (Larry E. Wiley), a still-young-and-vital senior who spends his days feeding squirrels and watching the birds in order to cope with his wife’s recent death. The early scenes find Earl sitting on his favorite bench observing the animals. A strange middle aged man wearing a jacket adorned with strange buttons and an mp3player with ear phones circles Earl and kindly observers the bird watcher. This man hurriedly mover around Earl nodding recognition. Earl is puzzled by the stranger’s attention.
Mike (Tommy Lee Johnston) is determined to meet and talk with Earl. He is animated, hurried and obnoxious. As he strikes up a conversation with Earl telling him that he has observed him and his wife in the park for years. He explains that he has a special gift—he sees an aura around people—yellow means their death is imminent. He can also feel one’s emotions with a devastating sensitivity. Earl thinks Mike is a crazy foul. He does, after all, live in a mental home. Mike honestly isn’t sure if he is mentally ill—all he knows is that his power is real.
As Mike tells his story to Earl of how his sightings of the auras cause him so much pain that it fills him with guilt because he can’t alter the inevitable. He tells about how he was working at the airport when he noticed that all the passengers waiting for a delayed flight had the yellow aura. He notices a lady and her 4 year old boy waiting for the flight. He befriends Amanda (Connie Anderko) while she waits for the weather to clear for her flight. Mike tries desperately to charm Amanda to take another flight.
We see Mike as he has mental health sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Wallace (Connie Anderko). These scenes demonstrate Mike’s intelligence and charisma. The Doctor’s reaction to Mike is surprising.
Mike slowly convinces Earl that he should believe him in an effort help him cope with his wife’s death. There is urgency to Mike’s conversation. Playwright Johnston has written a smart script with a most memorable character deftly played by himself. Larry Wiley is outstanding as the grieving senior and Connie Anderko moves nicely from the mental health worker to the fight-knuckle flyer. There are clever twists that make us question the plausibility of such powers. Is Mike a lunatic or a shaman? See this show and decide for yourself. Aura is swiftly paced and tightly written new play. You’ll not soon forget this story of a pure soul. Tommy Lee Johnston is a talented playwright/actor.
At Redtwist theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, Call 773-7529, www.redtwist.org, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, special Saturday matinee at 4 pm May 23, special Sunday evening at 7 pm May 17, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.