Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Adapted by Eward Albee from the novella by Carson McCullers

Directed by Ronan Marrathe ballad of the sad cafe by albee

Produced by Signal Ensemble Theatre

At Chopin’s Studio Theatre

Well acted and nicely staged production saves baffling  script

Signal Ensemble’s production values–set designed by Melanie Lancy with nice mood-setting live folk music by Jason Adams, Elizabeth Bagby and Nathan Dreckett sets the tone back to the 1930’s in rural Georgia. The fine southern drawls (with help from dialectic coach Elise Kauzlaric) and Laura M. Dana’s period perfect costumes creates a rural Deep Southern Depression Era atmosphere.   Vincent L. Lonergan’s spirited narration carries us into this problematic story that plays as a Southern Gothic myth.

Sad Cafe’s 1963 adaptation by Albee contains loads of his signature piercing dialogue in rich southern drawls. This story is billed as answering the question: is it better to be the loved , or the beloved? Amelia (the spirited Simone Roos) is a pillar of independence and strength who runs a cafe in a small town in Georgia.  She is feared and respected.  When Lymon (Aaron Snook in a brave performance) appears as a deformed hunchback–he claims to be Amelia’s cousin.  The town folk ridicule the him–Amelia takes him on as a sort of pet giving him hospitality in her house.  The two quickly become close friends. All is peaceful at the Cafe until Amelia’s long lost husband returns .

We see a flashback to how Marvin (Philip Winston in a commanding turn) and Amelia became a couple. It seems that Marvin is a womanizer and an aggressive free-spirit who reforms in order to win Amelia’s hand.  After a couple of years, Marvin proposers and Amelia accepts.  Then the trouble begins since Amelia will not let Marvin touch her much less consummate the marriage.  Ha? The script never give any hints as to why Amelia would agree to marry Marvin but then not let him touch her. Marvin tries everything he knows to get her to love him–but she seems to have a heart of stone. Is she an abuse victim from her childhood? A lesbian? Or what? Much of the play is about Marvin’s attitude when his bride will not have sex with him.

Amelia and Marvin’s relationship becomes a weird  love triangle when Lymon bonds with Marvin against Amelia.  So many questions and plot holes weaken the show.  The production values and the excellent ensemble acting together with the terrific live folk music were enough for me to enjoy this troubled work.


Tom Williams

At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Divison, Chicago, IL, Call 773-347-1350, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.

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