Directed by Karen Yates
At Oracle Productions, Chicago
Actor’s dominant in Pinteresque and Carol Churchill-like two hander – Ironmistress
Oracle Productions is a special place that offers unique avant-garde theatre works with a free admission policy through their Public Access Theatre initiative. This progressive group of artists feature adventurous plays with daring productions that pushes the artistic envelop in the best traditions of Chicago storefront theatre.
Their latest work is a spellbound production of British playwright April De Angelis’ 1989 two-hander, Ironmistress. This 72 minute work is a dense, wordy series of storytelling games and role-playing exercises between Martha Darby (Katherine Keberlein) – the mother and Little Gog (Sarah Goeden) – the daughter.
The press notes tell me: “Ironmistress is a nightmare play in verse that follows Martha Darby, a widow who inherits her husband’s iron foundry in bleak Victorian England, a world where women had no power. On the eve of her young daughter Little Cog’s wedding, Darby engages in a night of games and storytelling that dredges up ugly memories and forces both women to confront their desires for dominance. Director Yates’s vision is both richly comic and darkly unsettling, and highlights the everyday barbarism towards women during the Industrial Revolution. Inside a mechanized cage, the audience will watch mother and daughter either breaking free of the male mantle of power or being destroyed by it.”
Much of the action gets muddled by numerous overlapping storytelling and the thick British accent and too fast speech patterns by Sarah Goeden at the plays start making the work hard to follow. But once Goeden and Katherine Keberlein settle into their roles, their acting skills took over and the complex work evolved into an enticing emotionally compelling play. This is a hard to follow work that pays off with a bleak look at how a Victorian mother can push her daughter into martial servitude to secure her future in a savage world.
Fueled with interesting costumes (by Darcy Hofer ) and underscored by the terrific sound (by Chris Kriz) on an iron bars-like black box set (by Mike Mroch), Ironmistress unfolds as an adventurous nightmare series of stories and role-reversals wherein both the mother and daughter attempt to purge their demons before moving on in life.
While the stories are a tad hard to follow, both Keberlein as the mother and Goeden as the child have many rich moments in their ambitious 72 minutes of acting. Sarah Goeden works hard as she moves from naive little girl to bug-eyed adolescent to several male characters as the fantasies play out.
You’ll need to stretch your imagination and exude much empathy to fully appreciate this strange work. The multilayer performances by Goeden and Keberlein make seeing this show worth the time. The folks at Oracle Productions don’t charge for tickets depending on donations from audiences after the performance. They bank on you enjoying their shows. Ironmistress’ acting makes this show jell. If you’re an adventurous theatre patron and want to see something different-catch Ironmistress and then make a suitable donation.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 7, 2012
At Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway, Chicago