Simpatico at A Red Orchid Theatre: A Thoroughbred Production

Simpatico at A Red Orchid Theatre: A Thoroughbred Production
(l. to r.) Guy Van Swearingen and Michael Shannon in Simpatico at AROT. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

There is definitely nothing simpatico about Sam Shepard's play of the same name currently running at A Red Orchid Theatre.  The irony of the Simpatico title-- meaning compatible or on the same wave length--was evident from the getgo when the Theatre's co-founding ensemble members Michael Shannon (Carter) and Guy Van Swearingen (Vinnie) meet in Vinnie's desolate flat where they engage in a totally out of sync dialogue.

Simpatico which closes out A Red Orchid Theatre's 20th Anniversary Season pits Man of Steel star, Michael Shannon returning to his Chicago roots, against his long time friend Guy Van Swearingen.  The history and chemistry between the two actors is evident as they seamlessly volley words back and forth in an upside down power play.

The act or "crime" which has bound the pair together for the last 15 years, whether they liked it or not, was not initially revealed to the audience. What we do learn is that the successful, well-dressed Carter has been supporting his former colleague and longtime friend, Vinnie, who is now a disillusioned alcoholic.

But the reason why is a mystery.  What would make Carter, a big player in the thoroughbred racing industry in Kentucky who seemingly has it all, drop everything and leave his family and exclusive Kentucky digs to go his friend's dingy Rancho Cucamonga, California flat?

The answer is buried in a shoebox.  A shoebox that Vinnie stores under his bed and checks nightly.

As the play unravels, we learn what's in that shoe box and the story behind it that sets things spinning out of control.  Simpatico sheds light on the dark side of professional horse-racing revolving around the complicated personalities of the three men and two women who inhabit its world.

Guy Van Swearingen and Jennifer Engstrom. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Guy Van Swearingen and Jennifer Engstrom. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

The draw for this sold out play is its strong cast featuring long-time ensemble members Michael Shannon, Dado, Guy Van Swearingen, Mierka Girten, Jennifer Engstrom and Doug Vickers.

"The long, sordid history that the characters in Simpatico share is not unlike the history that we share as an ensemble (though none of us are fixing races or blackmailing anyone to my knowledge!)" says Artistic Director Kirsten Fitzgerald.

"Certainly, that history is not required, but it is useful and is absolutely part of the attraction", she continues.  "With any history come some fierce loyalties: to ideas, individuals, and the group.  Those loyalties are always ripe for examination.”

The setting inside the 50-seat A Red Orchid Theatre is a small darkly lit stage that gives a film noir quality to the production.  That along with the strong connections between the ensemble cast, a well written story and solid acting makes this show worth seeing.

One weakness of the play may be the final scene between Guy Van Swearingen and Michael Shannon. The acting is powerful yet puzzling as their positions shift.

Tickets

$30 Thursdays, $40 Friday & Saturday nights, $35 Saturday & Sunday matinees. All shows are sold out but if you go early, you have a chance to get stand-by tickets. On the day we were there six people we able to get standby tickets. The production will runs through August 25, 2013 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells.

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