Directed by Richard Shavzin
Produced by Polarity Ensemble
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
Implausible plot and stereotypical characters populate Catholic oriented family drama
The world premiere of Chuck O’ Connor’s Miracles in the Fall finds an Irish Catholic family, lead by the tyrannical, nasty, bigoted drunken patriarch JimmyConnelly (the over-the-top Fred A. Wellisch) and his nun daughter Clare (Laura Berner Taylor) living together in their Detroit home. Problem here: why would a nun be sent from her convent to live in a home, even her family’s, simply to cook and care for her father? Besides being a nasty drunk, we don’t see why Jimmy needs his daughter to look after him. In 1968, nuns didn’t get assigned back to their homes, therefore having Clare living back home is improbable. That flaw sure kills much of the conflict in this contrived drama.
We also see Clare, a devout nun display a fierce, guilt-ridden Catholic faith as well as an explosive temper as she fights with her father and, at times with the liberal priest, Father Lentine (Rian Jairell). Add the lost son, Charlie Connelly (Mickey O’ Sullivan), a Vietnam veteran returning home to makes amends after being estranged from his father when he left home years earlier. Charlie is now a gentle soul bent on being a peace maker toward his father and his sister Clare.
Throughout the first act, we see an argumentative, bozo-infested nasty old man in Jimmy who we couldn’t care a lick for. We wonder why Clare lives with him why he is so nasty a person? Eventually we learn all the family secrets that led Jimmy to become a drunk ; what sent Clare to the nunnery at age thirteen (another improbably in 1968 since nuns usually started after high school and in the eight grade) This story contains too much melodramatic collective shame that leads to amazingly strangely disastrous life decisions. Past betrayals by the Connelly mother affect the surviving Connelly family members. All these plot points seem like playwright contrivances. Full disclosure: in 1968, I was 24 years old with a Catholic education (grade school, high school and university) and a member of my local parish.
And the subtext concerning all character’s interest in the 1968 Baseball World Series and the personal crisis of faith by both Clare and Father Lentine and Miracles in the Fall is surly a miracle in that this awful play ever got mounted. Once sparks fly between the priest and the nun, we start rolling our eyes in disbelief. And later when we learn that Father Lentine, at age sixteen (who allows a teenager to join the priesthood at 16 years old? And since when are Jesuits – a teaching order – doing parish work?), enter the seminary because he believed that his asthma was cured because he entered the seminary. Ridiculous! Clearly, playwright O’ Connor didn’t do enough research.
In the end, Miracles in the Fall suffers from a script filled with Catholic faith cliches, incredulous characters who mix their faith with baseball as they fight and argue in situations that defy belief. The acting, especially from Fred A. Wellisch and Laura Berner Taylor, was so filled with rage that it is a miracle that the two didn’t kill one another! This play is a collection of cliche situations, mixed motifs and improbable motivations. We get tired of all the screaming from characters we simply don’t like making the two hours we spend with them tedious.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2014
For more info checkout the Miracles in the Fall page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call773-404-7336, www.petheatre.com, tickets $25, students $10, seniors $20, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission, through October 5, 2014