A Small Fire

Written by Adam Bocksteep theatre

Directed by Joanie Schultz

At the Steep Theatre

A gritty character-driven drama that questions the senses.

The Steep Theatre has produced a well executed, hard-hitting drama performed by a group of seasoned actors in their new production of A Small Fire. It is by Adam Bock whose previous hit at the Steep was The Receptionist. A Small Fire confronts a myriad of human social priorities when confronted with life’s struggles. It is an 85 minute one act drama presented on a runway stage containing four characters. The story needs to be performed by an experienced cast which we had the privilege to witness at Steep Theatre.

We are introduced to Emily Bridges, played powerfully by Melissa Riemer, who is talking shop with her construction company’s number two (and close friend), Billy Fontaine (James Allen). She is coarse, rough, yet commanding and endearing. We then meet her husband, John Bridges (played by successful playwright turned actor Robert Koon.) He is a compassionate counterpart to her forward take-charge demeanor. We also meet their daughter, Jenny (Julia Siple). To her mother’s protest as to her choice of a mate, Jenny is planning her wedding. Tension looms about, mostly from the daughter. This family is financially family sound, but with relationship issues nonetheless.

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Suddenly, Emily begins to lose her senses—literally. It starts with her loss of smell. One by one Emily’s five senses begin to leave her until she is only left with only feeling, or touch. A once active woman is left to the whim of those who help her (mostly by her finitely loyal husband, John). As the show progresses, Emily’s struggle spirals from familial issues to the basic personal well-being. The world as she knows is closing in on her as it traps her into complete dependency. Her family and friends aid her through basic survival. Amazingly, this tragedy does not change them much. It merely enhances the roles they played before. John is more loyal than ever. Billy is the most steadfast of friends, and Jenny still struggles to connect with her mom. Emily was the driving force of a largely loveless marriage, and now she has inadvertently trapped him into devoting all his time caring for her basic needs. Jenny has always been close to her father, as she resents what he has had to give up for her mother. Perhaps with her own marriage she afraid her fate could be similar, which catalyzes these emotions.

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The play brings together characters, pits them into an unforeseeable tragedy, as emotions run deep. Riemer’s moving performance depicting Emily’s losing her senses including sight and hearing makes the show worth seeing. Her nuanced procession from a physically strong to vulnerably weak woman demands a seasoned actor. Melissa Riemer vividly played Emily’s emotional and physical destruction nimbly. She brought out varied depths of her character. I was near tears several times as other audience member gave into their emotions.

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The script succeeds in producing a character-driven drama about a tough topic, the physical collapse of a person. There is a speech where Billy tells John how much Emily means to him. While moving, the contents of that speech did not seem to fluidly connect with things we had already heard. The ending, also, leaves things unresolved. Emily reclaims joy in her now-joyless life. That comes after the couple engage in sex. Which quickly cuts to black. Has she really found a renewed sense in life? Is the immediate loss of light supposed to signify this sense? Logically, the latter makes more sense, but it is still unclear exactly what happened.

The performances are terrific, and the play accomplishes the goal of presenting a riveting emotional tour of human struggle. A Small Fire is geared towards adult audiences who enjoy character-driven dramas about difficult topics. Those who venture to Steep Theatre will see an intense dramatic depiction of a personal struggle and a family’s commitment toward her. The dedicated performances makes for wonderful theatre.


Kevin Armistead

Date Reviewed: July 10, 2014

For more info check the A Small Fire page at

At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago, IL, call 773-649-3186,, tickets $22, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 85 minutes without an intermission, through August 16, 2014


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