Theater Review: Simpatico
Michael Shannon has become known as one of the more naturally intense Hollywood actors of his generation. Viewers of the 2012 film Take Shelter and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire know that Shannon has the ability to look straight into the depth of a character and bring out truth and raw emotion. On the other hand, Sam Shepard is the playwright of such theatrical acclaim as Buried Child, Fool for Love and True West. Yes, the author does “dabble” in the occasional foray with acting from time to time, but we can save that for another column; To say that Mr. Shepard has written a few well-known contemporary plays that show depth and conflict is pretty much an understatement. So, the fact that A Red Orchid has managed to obtain both of these talents together is a large enough alignment of the stars that even Superman might not be able to hold back his excitement (yes, I had to go there) and thankfully no one has to.
As the lights dim on A Red Orchid’s intimate stage and backwater Bluegrass underscores the theatre, one can’t help but to feel a sinking pull into a smothering World of filth – seedy, dark and wonderful filth. And sure enough within its first five minutes, audiences are introduced to the degenerate liar Vinnie (Guy Van Swearingen), in trouble with the law for having slightly stalked a woman he lusts after, claiming it’s love at first sight. To help cope with his heartbreak and possible legal issues, Vinnie reaches out for help from his distanced crime partner Carter (Michael Shannon), and through Mr. Shepard’s humorous & combustible dialogue we soon learn Carter has betrayed Vinnie by marrying Rose – Vinnie’s Ex – and continues to help Simms (aka Aimes), the victim of a photo-captured sex scandal to which Vinnie and Carter conjured up over 15 years ago. The trouble with Vinnie is he can’t be trusted and in a gesture of love towards the aforementioned woman, negatives of the crime setup against Simms are given to Cecillia. Carter must now seize them back to save his home life, profession and skin in tact; that is unless Vinnie has just made the whole story up.
Ensemble member Dado has taken the reins of this complicated and not-so-seen show and directed a gritty and darkly satisfying turn here. The key is the pacing and mounting tension to which Dado has found affinity in bringing to the forefront and hinging the entire story arch. Altogether, Dado has also chosen wisely in Mike Durst’s dim lighting design to add hidden depth while coupling tightly with Grant Sabin’s compartmental scenic design. Finally, Dado has pinpointed the humor in a dense script thats full of conflict and imbued her ensemble with trust and commitment to take her vision; what’s been spit out is a tight-knitting of characters that are interwoven in layers of true essence.
Having witnessed several productions at A Red Orchid Theatre, I can say that the company is one of my favorites within Chicago, so it is with great pleasure that I can admit that director Dado has helped to mount one of the finest displays of quality which AROT has presented – and it couldn’t have been a better fit for the closing of the company’s 20th Anniversary season.
Fresh Roasted Rating: High Recommended
Check out the full Simpatico review HERE
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