Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Audrey Francis
At Chicago Dramatists Theatre
Teasing and Trust can lead to danger
The Sugar Syndrome is an enjoyable dark comedy performed by a talented group of actresses and actors that have a great rapport with each other so that the timing is natural and the emotions are believable. The Sugar Syndrome takes a while to “get to the point” and there is a little too much build up before we get to see what the conflict is, but the performance maintained my attention with the dry noir humor of the script and sarcastic wit of its characters.
After a recent stay in a clinic to treat her eating disorders Dani (Director, Audrey Francis) is back home with her emotionally distant mother (Janice O’Neill) and absent father who is busy running a newspaper and loving his mistress. In a desperate attempt for human connection and the desire to feel needed 17 year old Dani searches for friendship on the internet and doesn’t stop at chatting or even at just meeting these different strangers. She forms relationships with the two guys she has been chatting with online because each of them need or want something. That feeling of usefulness allows her to be more trusting than she should be and she finds herself fulfilling a 22 year old virgin’s sexual fantasies (while also displaying the humorous awkwardness that occurs in youths rush for sexual satisfaction) and befriending Tim, a pedophile in his mid-thirties who has spent time in prison and been treated with shock therapy.
Alexander Lane plays the shy insecure 22 year old Louis and without overreaching grows into a socially awkward possessive lover, representing the real individuals that might lurk behind the words in the internet chat rooms. Louis’s overly protective actions to protect Dani put everyone in danger when he threatens to expose Tim’s secret sexual past. Seeing the “goodness” in Tim (John Wilson) and his efforts to resist his inappropriate desires along with the connection she feels with him because of her own dark past, Dani puts herself right in the middle of the problem.
The set designed by John Wilson (who also plays Tim) is of a simple lower-middle class apartment in London (we imagine the wealthy home of the newspaper editor that Dani lives in.) Utilizing the smaller space, the stage is given versatility by the change in lighting and eerie clanging noises constantly buzzing while Dani interacts with her new friends on the computer. The intimate setting of Chicago Dramatists Theatre enhances this plays intention of having the audience feel as if they are in the room as characters converse.
Director Audrey Francis stands out and steps-up to deliver a terrific performance under pressure. Last night will be the last time we get to see Audrey Francis as Dani. The original Dani is played by Sharina Martin but an injury forced the Director to step in on opening night. I have heard nothing but great things about Sharina Martin, so I expect nothing less when she takes the stage.
The play, written by Lucy Prebble, touches on many psychological problems/issues that are far too common in today’s society. Prebble forces the viewer to look at these problems and characters with more empathetic eyes then they might in their daily lives. Presenting a pedophile’s victimized side, as well as his emotional insecurities and fragility, Prebble tries to draw empathy from the audience. This questionable description of the man further deepens the impact at the end when we gruesomely find out the more sinister side of Dani’s new friend. Lucy Prebble’s play is interesting and the quick wit and chemistry within the cast creates a stirring yet consistently funny performance. The cast is made up of former Steppenwolf graduates who wanted to work together one more time. This is probably the last time we will see them all together on stage, and this group of performers is worth seeing.
By Timothy McGuire
At Chicago Dramatist, 1105 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL, call 800.595.4849, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 8 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.