Theatre Reviews

Ruby Wilder

Written by Brooke Allen

Directed by James D. Palmer

At Teatro Luna’s Cabaret Studio

A disturbing journey into the mind of a tortured victim.

Wherever Ruby Wilder is in the real world, it’s not a good place. Is she in prison? An insane asylum? A prisoner of her own home and thoughts? We never find out. Brooke Allen’s Ruby Wilder takes place entirely inside the mind of the eponymous young woman. As you twist and turn inside the labyrinth of Ms. Wilder’s struggling consciousness, you may find this is one of the more disturbing “haunted houses” you can visit this Halloween season.

Non-linear storytelling is tricky to pull off, but James D. Palmer’s direction keeps the action moving while Allen’s script adds in a little meta-humor in the form of an omnipresent (but not omniscient) “Narrator” (Joshua Davis). He foreshadows the tale throughout; indicating the number of shots fired, or trying to convince Ruby (Paige Sawin) of the futility of her attempts to escape the traps of her own devising. At times this is a trite device, but it ultimately wins over objections as he helps keep us grounded in the narrative as it unfolds.

There’s not a lot that can be said about a tale this twisted without necessitating a giant SPOILER ALERT at the front, so I’ll approach this delicately. The events that spurned the schism in Ruby’s mind occurred approximately four years prior, when her and her sister ‘Junebug’ (Christine Vrem-Ydstie) were trapped by serial killer Paul “Ozzie” Osborn (Sean Thomas). Ruby made it out, but the mystery of her sister haunts her to the present. So does her need for revenge. Her life has become a shambles—she’s lost her will to live, and her fiancé Harper (Alex Kyger) has left in disgust. When the gods of vengeance shine providence upon her desire, she’ll have to confront the demons of her own making.

Staged with visceral intimacy at Teatro Luna, the Tympanic Theatre Company’s cast is up to the task of negotiating the circuitous paths of Ruby’s mind. Thomas is undeniably creepy as a serial killer, while Sawin is touching as a big sister driven to madness. She’s stalwart but vulnerable—a fine line to walk—and she does the range well. Set design by Dustin Pettegrew utilizes plastic coverings to great symbolic (if somewhat noisy) effect for an appropriately sinister staging.

Not for the faint of heart, Ruby Wilder contains the use of gunfire and drug use. It rewards the careful viewer (think an even less linear Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but doesn’t require an obscene amount of thought to comprehend. My advice: give in to the surreality. Not all of her actions make sense even compressed into a linear format, but that’s a relatively minor quibble. Follow Ruby down the rabbit hole of self-denial, forgiveness, and a possible redemption. Anchored by the compelling performances at the center, it’s a whirlwind with a chill that will be hard to shake as you exit into the brisk autumn darkness.


Review by Clint May

At Teatro Luna’s Cabaret Studio, 3914 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL; call 773.442.2882. Tickets $15 ($12 industry); Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Running time 90min; through October 28.

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