By Polly Stenham
Directed by Jennifer Green
At Piven Theatre Workshop, Evanston
“We’ve got a plan. Once, at least one of us is always here. Two, don’t let anyone know, Three, check the phone every half hour…”
-Eliot, Tusk Tusk
Too much screaming and shouting hurts otherwise moving drama
When you have a young playwright, Polly Stenham, (age 26) and a young cast doing a British drama wrought with emotions the tendency is for the volume to increase with ear-shattering results that only diminishes empathy. I blame the director, Jennifer Green for not toning down the two leads. When you start screaming and shouting early on, you have no where to go to increase the emotional tension, you only succeed in alienating your audience. Once Bryce Lunsky, as Eliot and Olivia Cygan , as Maggie lower their volume, their angst will build nicely thus delivering a stronger impact.
That being said, Tuck Tusk features two teen actors who deliver (minus the screaming) excellent performances as the troubled teens who are struggling to survive in their new home in London after their mother has abandoned them. With their seven year old brother, Finn (Gabriel Stern), the three children try to survive without much money and without supervision from their mentally unstable mother.
Finding themselves alone without knowing if and when their mother will return, 14 year old Maggie fights for control over the household by challenging her son-to-be 16 year old brother Eliot. Both suffer the scares from a most dysfunctional mother who is a mentally ill, a pill-popper, and a sexual active woman. The children dread most of all being sent to British foster care, especially for 7 year old Finn. Eliot is determined to keep the family together with his plan that necessitates the either Maggie or him stay in the home to watch Finn and wait for word from their mother. Eliot does leave to gather food and meet his new girlfriend, Cassie (Austin Moore).
We witness the three siblings argue, have fun, and commiserate over their plight. Their anxiety strains their relationship as Maggie often vents while Eliot acts out with sexual activity and drinking. Gradually we learn about the promiscuous behavior and severe depression that mother suffers that leaves scare on both Eliot and especially Maggie. Here the children become enablers.
In act two, the play starts to fall apart as Roland (Jeff McLane) and his wife Katie (Joanne Underwood) arrive to welcome the family. They are ‘old friends’ of mother. The actions of Eliot and Maggie and the revelation about Roland and their mother, as well as Maggie’s guilt, sheds new complications. While the storyline is a tad concocted, the performances by the three teen actors was amazingly effective. They all sported fine British accents, including young Gabriel Stern. Reaching the highs and lows emotionally together with the physicality needed here would tax even a season actor yet Lunsky and Cygan (and little Stern) gave skilled and emotionally deep performances. The future is bright for these three. Once they tone down a tad and let the tension rise gradually, Tusk Tusk will emerge as a more wrenching drama.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 12, 2012
For more info checkout the Tusk Tusk page at theatreinchicago.com
At Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes, Evanston, IL, call 847-866-8049, www.piventheatre.org, tickets $25, Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through October 7, 2012