The Little Flower of East Orange

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By Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Directed by Steve Scott.

Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company.

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago.

Terrific performances by mother and son propel family drama.

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Stephen Adly Guirgis writes his emotionally -packed plays with colorful  and memorable characters. In his The Little Flower of East Orange, now in its Midwest  Premiere features a special mother-son relationship as it is peopled with a rich assortment of both actual folks and a list of fantasy characters right from Theresa Marie (the vulnerable Jeannie Affelder) including Pope John XXIII, Jimmy Stewart, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Bobby Kennedy.

We meet Therese Marie in the ICU suffering from amnesia, chronic pain as see doesn’t know her name; the morphine drip is her salvation. Dotted over her are a flamboyant nurse, a charismatic orderly and a colorless doctor. All give this “little flower” effective care and needed attention.

But sparks fly when the author, hard drinking and druggy son, Danny (the fabulous John Henry Roberts in a role played on Broadway by Michael Shannon) visits his mother in the hospital. The attempts of reconciliation and redemption dredge up family past problems from both mother’s and son’s life.  We experience the vulnerable of Theresa Marie, we learn about her bringing up and all the trauma she has endured. We also see the source of her battles with Danny and the attempts by sister Justina (Jess Maynard) to move mother into a nursing home believing that Danny is incapable of giving Theresa Marie the care she needs.

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The Little Flower of East Orange is pure Guirgis in that he creates quirky, honest and raw characters complex enough to be  believable, flaws and all. His sharp, often witty dialogue expresses all angst, all the bitterness and the raw emotion of troubled, flawed individuals struggling for redemption from their past indiscretions. Guirgis’s characters are wonderfully human foibles and all.

John Henry Roberts, as Danny, narrates and battles with his mother with passion that moves form compassion to rage and contempt as he struggles with her. This is the finest performance I’ve seen from Roberts who has long been a staple of non-Equity actors for many years. He is terrific here as the hard drinking and rage-infested son. But this is Jeannine Affelder’s play as difficult it is playing a sick, often delusional old lady, Affelder presents a tour de force performance as Theresa Marie. The dynamics of the battle between Danny and Therese Marie fuel this emotionally packed drama. Director Steve Scott keeps the pace moving as he builds the tension nicely. Guirgis’ stinging language plays like urban lyrics. Once we enter his world of deeply human vulnerable souls, we quickly relate to these unique people. Guirgis is a gifted storyteller and playwright with a vernacular urban voice. His plays resonate with the human condition.  The Little Flower of East Orange is well-worth seeing!

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: November 6, 2016.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout The Little Flower of East Orange page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773.935.6875 or visit Eclipse, Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through December 18, 2016.

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