Directed by: Nathan Robbel
Produced by the Right Brain Project
At RBP Rorschach Theatre
Multi-layered Performances Anchor This Gentle Story of Redemption.
This was my first visit to the Right Brain Project, a space that can be best described as “hyper-intimate.” The theatre itself is in a studio inside of a larger building and seats only about 30 in the audience (you sit on pillows on benches rather than chairs). The stage was set with nothing more than a couple of chairs and black blocks, all props were visible, and the actors cheerily greeted the audience members as they arrived. This made it feel like they had brought us there to share something personal and intimate. While I enjoy shows with keenly designed sets, gorgeous costumes, and intricate lighting design; it is much more impressive to me when a play is striking solely because of the actors in the space. Hesperia is one of these instances, confidently relying on the ability of the actors and the language of playwright Randall Colburn to create a wonderful evening of black box theatre.
The play opens with Ian (Billy Fenderson) confronting his former childhood friend and porn partner Claudia (Natalie DiCristofano) as she prepares to marry Trick (Nick Freed), a goofy, idealistic youth minister. Ian claims to have come to her because he has nowhere else to turn, as he is on the run from a pair of never seen drug dealers (to whom he owes a lot of money). Claudia has run to Hesperia, the town of the title, to start her life over, a goal she has seemingly accomplished as her wedding draws near; however, the arrival of Ian stirs up old memories and threatens the new reality she has created. Ian, seeking redemption and rebirth of his own, is heartily accepted by Trick and the locals of the town, including the naïve Daisy (Katy Albert) and the even more naïve Aaron (Danny Mulae). As Ian becomes more engrained in the community, Claudia is forced to confront the bottled up emotions of her past and make the painful transition to the future. The situations set up by playwright Randall Colburn allow for moments of quiet intimacy, painful heartbreak, and awkward innocence that make each scene feel fresh, alive, and relevant. The only point during which the story stalls is in the final two scenes, which are superbly acted, but seem to drag on slightly long in comparison to previous scenes which were much more clipped. Otherwise, the script ticks along nicely, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion that leaves an uncertain future for all characters.
This may be one of the most perfectly cast ensembles of any show I have ever seen. Billy Fenderson as Ian has a gentle, bad-boy nature about him that makes him exceedingly likeable and sympathetic. You can never be sure when he is being truthful and what his exact intentions are. Nick Freed as Trick is a superbly likeable representation of a small-town youth minister without becoming a caricature. The manner in which he channels his pain, confusion, and insecurity about how to handle Claudia’s past in the final scene is especially impressive. Katy Albert as Daisy does a large amount with one of the smaller parts of the show, creating a memorable, well-rounded character in just a few scenes. The young Danny Mulae has a bright future in front of him, although I do not want to be presumptuous about his age. He resonates a starry-eyed innocence that is hilarious and awkward but truthful and sincere at the same time. Natalie DiCristofano as Claudia is strong the respect that she maintains an outer shell of her new life that occasionally cracks when the ghosts of her past haunt her. You can see her in constant battle with her past, her faith, and herself. With the exception of a few diction issues, primarily in the quieter sections (the air conditioner remains on through the performance), this ensemble is outstanding.
Director Nathan Robbel, who also does the scenic and costume design, has confidently guided this ensemble. He is not afraid of silences and has not allowed the actors to take the dialogue at face value. As I said early on, he uses no tricks, nor spectacle, nor grandeur to tell the story. Most importantly, he has taken the moments that could have exploitative, gratuitous, or raunchy, and presented them in a manner that is tasteful to the audience. There is certain orchestration of the dialogue of Randall Colburn, which is why the Music direction of Trevor Patrick Watkin adds so much to the atmosphere. At times the sound was a tiny bit fuzzy or diluted as a result of passing trains outside, but this never detracted from the overall feel of the play.
While I enjoyed the play, certain playgoers may feel unfulfilled because many of the stories are left open-ended. Also, since the theatre is rather small it can get very warm inside (be sure to dress appropriately). Finally, there are no backs to your chairs so if you have any issues sitting on the pillows, give a call to the folks at RBP and perhaps they can help you out because I wouldn’t want you to miss out on this show as a result of that. This production goes to prove that strong storytelling and performances are the heart of great theatre.
Date of Review: 7/15/2010
For full show information, check out the Hesperia page at TheatreInChicago.
At RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60613. Tickets $15 suggested donation, $12 per ticket for groups of ten or more. Thursdays-Saturdays 8:00 PM, Industry show Monday August 2 at 8:00PM. For Tickets call 773-750-2033 or e-mail [email protected]. Running time is approximately 85 minutes with no intermission. Through August 14, 2010.