By Polly Stenham
Directed by Michael Colucci
At Redtwist Theatre
Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment but tonight there’ll be some love
That Face, the debut from 19-year-old English playwright Polly Stenham, is impressive in its maturity. It does not come off, at first blush, as something a teenager would write. That said, the teen angst and actions are closer, fresher, more realistic than something written by a significantly older writer. This is very much a teen drama, sort of Skins-meets-Albee.
The story revolves around two siblings, Mia and her older brother Henry (Rae Gray and Nick Vidal, respectively), and how they cope with their parents. Their father, Hugh (Andrew Pond), left five years ago and has married again, a hot young thing from Hong Kong, where he now resides; and their mother, Martha (Jacqueline Grandt), is a hopeless alcoholic, who struggles to get out of bed each morning. Mia has been sent off to boarding school, while Henry has dropped out to care for his mum and become an artist. But when Mia and head of house Izzy (Lindsay Leopold) haze and drug a freshman, Alice (Page Weaver), and subsequently get suspended, Mia returns home to a brother who, in trying to help his mother, has become completely dependent on her. Because of Mia’s ouster, their father has decided to return, something which none of them welcome. Henry tries desperately to drag his mother into some sort of presentable shape, while Mia has long ago given up, and is focused on how she might redeem herself in the eyes of Alice and the school.
Redtwist Theatre has been given the Midwest premiere, and they have handled it admirably. All of the actors are strong; each of the family members is presented both sympathetically and ruthlessly: you see their good side, but there is no question each of them is far from perfect. The pathos of this play is potent. Really, the only person who’s utterly unsympathetic is Izzy, who shows no remorse over sending Alice to the hospital. Where Mia regrets her actions, staring at the girl laid out in white hospital sheets, Izzy pokes her wounds to prove she’s sleeping.
There was the occasional missed opportunity, the feeling that even more could be brought out of this play. But that is a far cry from saying that this production is anything less than great. Nick Vidal brought maturity yet naivety to Henry; Rae Gray struck all the right notes of inner conflict; and Jacqueline Grandt brought a good balance between being drunk out of her mind and knowing exactly what she was doing, being utterly manipulative. And the small space of Redtwist’s theatre brought a crucial intimacy to the show that might have been lost in a much larger space. Considering the fact that great, new plays are hard to come by, That Face is certainly worth a trip.
Reviewed on 7.2.11
For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529, www.redtwist.org, tickets $20-$27, Fridays and Sundays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3 pm, running time 2 hours with intermission, through August 14th.