The Commons of Pensacola

By Amanda Peetnorthlight theatre

Directed by Robin Witt

At Northlight Theatre, Skokie

 Guilt of the family for the sins of the patriarch

The Northlight Theater is playing host to Amanda Peet’s The Commons of Pensacola, brought to the stage by Robin Witt. The play opens with Judith, a mother of two played by Linda Kimbrough entering her new condo in Pensacola, Florida with her maid, her oldest daughter Rebecca (or Becks for short), and Becks’s young beau Gabe. Thanksgiving is just a few short days away and tensions are high in the wake of the incarceration of the patriarch of the family. A mirroring of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme orchestrator that took advantage of the vulnerabilities of Holocaust Survivors for billions of dollars), this father of two is likely to spend his life behind bars for his crimes leaving Judith, who had grown used to a suspiciously comfortable lifestyle, with next to nothing.

Becks (delivered by Lusia Strus) is a struggling actress desperate to make her break at 43. Gabe (portrayed by Erik Hellman) is a struggling 29 year old film maker trying to incorporate his girlfriend, Becks, into his career. The apparent age difference is a constant comedic theme throughout much of the production.

northlight theatre

The maid, Lorena, puts down her grocery bags and bids the family farewell for the weekend, leaving Judith with medication reminders and me wishing she would stay. Lily Mojekwu comes alive on stage as Lorena, a loving woman who’s just a little rough around the edges. She shows us how kind tough love can be and I wish she played a bigger part in this show. Becks grows suspicious of how her mother can afford this new lifestyle she’s moved into by the Gulf, but doesn’t want to rock the boat during this sensitive and miserable time. Shoving it off, she asks Judith about Thanksgiving plans. Judith informs her that Rebecca’s niece, Lizzy, will be joining them, but will not be accompanied by her mother, Ali. Ali and Judith have failed to reconcile after the traumatic events in the courtroom.

northlight theatre

While Becks is picking up Lizzy from the airport, Gabe and Judith begin talking, wherein he reveals his plans to create a docu-series about the family and what they’ve been dealing with. Reminded that they can’t make money off of their crimes due to Son of Sam law, Gabe defends his series saying it’s not about money, but about a story that needs to be told. It seems that his intentions are in the right place, but at the end of it all it just feels sleazy. This debate is getting more heated, Judith retires to her bedroom where she…I don’t know, has a terrible fall, tries to hurt herself, faints…It’s never really made clear in the script exactly what happened. It’s later vaguely explained to have something to do with the medication, but it’s never apparent.

Regardless, Gabe rushes her to the hospital, where he is joined later by Becks and Lizzy (an obnoxiously foul mouthed teenager played by Leah Karpel). With Judith still in the hospital situations change, sending Gabe out the door and out of their lives as well as ours…good riddance! Out of concern for her mother and anger at her daughter, Becca’s baby sister Ali shows up in Pensacola for comfort and confrontation. Ali, my personal favorite character played by Lori Myers, is the catalyst that really got this story going for me. A confrontation between her and her sister turns loud and vicious. Going back and forth, these polar opposites bring a true semblance of reality to the stage. A shudder crept up my back as I thought of previous fights with my sibling, wishing that we could find some compromise and peace in our relationship.

Without revealing too much more of the plot to you, I feel that the ending falls flat. Overall, I would say this is an enjoyable production, but I can’t stop thinking that I wanted more. Sporadically the dialogue went from feeling genuine and honest to feeling belligerently fake. Speaking in pointless references to Abbott and Costello bits, The Spanish Inquisition, and farts and then following it up with hokey colloquialisms, it becomes difficult to build a relationship with these characters. For the most part, this plot was pretty satisfying. The story had me engaged throughout the majority of the 90 minute one act. This is a story of morality and restoration. Trying to rebuild from your past is difficult for anyone, but the shame this family feels gives them a seemingly immobile weight. In moments when the drama is high, these actors shine, making it easy to relate to the esoteric situations they’re going through with basic human empathy. Making something so unrelatable relatable.

northlight theatre

The stage is set in the living room of Judith’s one-bedroom condo. A fairly standard set put together by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and his crew. His vision brings to life exactly what you’d expect to see in your mother or grandmother’s living room. A lovely, well laid out seating area complete with kitchenette and bar. The only questionable piece of this set, written into the script, is a door that won’t open. For me, it felt like a completely useless plot point. It’s almost like this was meant to be some sort of symbolic plot point that just made no sense.

The costuming was done by Emily McConnell. The only notable point being the juxtaposition between the styles of Rebecca and Ali. Rebecca with her leather boots, long hair, pseudo-hip look, trying desperately to hold onto her youth, made apparent by her boy toy Gabe. Ali, a working woman with a trench coat and business attire, her short hair maintained, her appearance overall strong and mature.

All in all, The Commons of Pensacola was alright. I feel that I, a 24 year old male, was probably not the target audience. I didn’t leave the theater thinking how much I wanted to bring other people to see the show, but I could think of a few relatives who would thoroughly enjoy it. It’s a story of a family struggling to love each other. A tale of suspicion and trust. Just all around a decent story. Worth the 80 minutes. Great characters come together to bring you an enjoyable evening.

Recommended

John Stuckert

At Northlight Theatre. 9501 N. Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.orgtickets $25 – $78, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesday matinees at 1 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7pm, running time is 80 minutes without intermission, through October 19, 2014