It's exciting to see the Concordia University students' production of award-winning playwright Dana Lynn Formsby's play "Until Death." The lively, energized new work is being presented at the Madison Street Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, in Oak Park. The cast does well with this quirky, edgy comedy drama. I always enjoy a show that can make you laugh out loud one minute, then abruptly become poignant and touching moments later. Director Stephanie Stroud and her young troupe present a tightly paced, impressively performed premiere that is being produced in collaboration with Chicago Dramatists.
Red-haired Devon Thomson, played by Kara Grimm, has been raised by a vociferous feminist. She is so head-over-heels in love with her Mormon boyfriend, Josiah Boor, that she proposes to him. Josiah is portrayed by Geordie Denholm. His controlling mother (Becca Peterson), a widow ever in an apron, staunchly defends more traditional gender roles. Both young people come from conflicting backgrounds.
Devon's mother, Francine (Micah Streubel) is constantly speaking in other languages on her Blue Tooth. She's a high-power international lawyer who has devoted her life to "breaking the glass ceiling." She's disappointed her son's beloved comes from such a traditional background with gender roles rigidly in place and constantly enforced.
Josiah's family has equal difficulty adjusting to liberated, modern Devon. They've never seen a woman carve the meat before. Characters often have no filter; they voice out loud the thoughts they perhaps should keep to themselves. It's often really hilarious.
Malachi, Josiah's childhood friend, now an elder of their church, is played by Nate Perez. He is attracted to one of Josiah's look-alike sisters. (Both sisters as well as a pair of doctors are played by Morgan Schussler-Williams.) Josiah's deceased father, never seen, occasionally speaks, booming god-like, providing wisdom and direction. He is voiced by Jayme McGhan.
The action is often highly stylized, a la the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Quick scenes are played a la sitcom style, accompanied by uproarious audience response. Then suddenly there may be a ballet-like episode of fisticuffs or all-out virtual production numbers complete with loud "house music" and a disco ball casting its shimmering mirrored mosaic light across the auditorium. At times there are stylized epic battles yet the show emphasizes that familial love is really what matters. In one fantasy sequence the music playing (flutes, violins, harps) is Disney's "A Dream Is a Wish the Heart Makes" from "Cinderella." It's great fun to see where the show may go next. Each bit is well choreographed.
Concordia's fully realized production is chock full of wonderful comic moments. Director Stroud comments: "This piece is unique in its story-telling elements. It allows the subtext of the characters to be expressed in a heightened reality. How many times have you wanted to tell your mother what you truly feel? "Until Death" allows its characters to express and play out their inner monologues, allowing them to explore both their differences and their common ground—and to truly find out what it means to be family."
"I have been working on new works for over seven years in Chicago," Stroud told me. "This is by far one of my favorite journeys. I have the wonderful opportunity to work on Dana Lynn Forby's "Until Death" as part of a Chicago Dramatists new workshop project ... helping the playwright shape the piece into the story she wants to tell. Workshops and staged readings are essential to developing new work. [They] allow the play to live in the natural environment, the stage, and give the playwright the opportunity to allow it to breathe."
Dana Lynn Formsby is a Chicago Dramatists resident playwright. Her plays have been produced or workshopped at Steppenwolf, the Goodman, the Kennedy Center, Mortar Theatre, and the New York Theatre Workshop. Stroud has been devoted to bringing new works to the stage. This is her second collaborative production with Chicago Dramatists, the leading "new works theater" in this region.
Matt Bender is assistant director. Technical director is Justin Glombicki. The stage manager is Hunter Bloom.
The flexible set, with sections that come loose to become tables or containers, was designed by Jayme McGhan. Lighting was designed by Glombicki. Sound was designed by Glombicki and Zach Meditz.
Remaining performances of "Until Death" are at 7:30 on Feb. 19 and 21 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students and seniors.
Answer Book 2019
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