By Joshua Rollins
Directed by Ilesa Duncan
Produced by Step Up Productions
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Can we ever runaway from out lives?
Playwright Joshua Rollins, in a ode to Sam Shepard, likes to create troubled characters who seem trapped in their lives. In Darlin’, now in a world premier at the Athenaeum Theatre, Rollins has Clem (Elizabeth Birnkrant), a 30something woman who arrives at a motel in rural Iowa. She is alone, drives a Volvo SUV with two baby seats and she has a wad of cash. The mystery abounds: who is she, why is she here; what is she running from?
Smith (Todd Michael Kiech), the motel manager questions her about the above especially when she insist on paying cash for the room – for a week. Clem is tight-lipped. An assortment of troubled souls, who seem to find their way into these slice-of-life dramas, are present. We meet Troy (Robert Hardaway), an African-American convention aid who always seems to be in the outdoor hallway when Clem’s door is open. He is a bored-with-life ex-high school football star. There is the shy delivery boy, Kenny (Jake Carr) and local drug dealer who brings Clem food, booze and weed. He is a mensch whose melancholy finds him gliding through life. he is timidly attracted to Clem.
But, the cleaning woman, Dee (Elizabeth Antonucci), who sports bruises with a manic nervousness that screams battered woman, dares to question Clem while cleaning Clem’s drunken messy room. We see the scarey, tattooed abuseive Hank (John Wehrman) as he prances about the hallway. It is quite clear that Dee is in a terrible relationship.
While Rollins does introduce these troubled characters, the action in act one is no existent. We see Clem drinking/smoking herself into an escapist oblivion, I kept waiting for something to happen. Act One drags on devoid of either more character development nor heighten mystery. As Clem implodes, we find no one to like or care about here. As it becomes know that Clem has abandoned her family and children, we begin to hate her.
Act two finds Jake (Bradfors R. Lund), Clem’s husband finally finding her at the motel. When he confronts her in bed with Troy, he isn’t too upset! He is more angry with her for leaving the familiarly unannounced. The arguments from Clem about why she decided to leave didn’t ring true to me. Just because she hates her life and fears that she’ll pass on to her children he coldness for life isn’t enough reason to simply run away!
The theme about the Iowans feeling trapped by their life in rural America is vividly expressed by Clem’s motel mates. Dee, the abused woman, is over played by Elizabeth Antonucci who stays with Hank, despite being beaten and psychologically abused. She does so because she love him. Really. Clem tries in vain to help Dee escape her self-imposed trap with cash.
I’ll not say more so as not be spoil the show. Darlin’ plays as an underwritten,slowly-paced drama with not much to say about running away from our troubles. It does demonstrate how we can be affected by the people and places that surround us. Too bad there isn’t more substance about that and the ugly issue of spousal abuse. This character sketch need more meat to get us to empathize. Jake Carr and Elizabeth Birnkrant gave worthy performances. Darlin’ is a near miss.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 11, 2014
For more info checkout the Darlin’ page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call773-935-6875, tickets $30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours 10 minutes with intermission, through April 13, 2014