Steep Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of LUTHER. The Foremans adopted Luther. He is a volatile son with public displays of rage. He is also a grown man. Marjorie and Walter have brought into their home an emotionally disturbed war veteran. They love him. And he loves them. It’s a sexless menage a trois. If they could stay home, their life would be an ideal cocoon. Unfortunately, the world beckons. Walter’s company is having a work party. The trio go. A series of incidents occur causing each to protect the other. But at what cost? LUTHER is one wacky dude.
Playwright Ethan Lipton won an Obie Award for this play. Steep’s version is the second production of LUTHER. It’s promoted as a dark comedy. I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was very sad. The relational dynamic between the adults had a sweetness but primarily it was dysfunctional-ickiness. The absurdity wasn’t laughable. It was cringe-able. Under the direction of Joanie Schultz, puppets appear to lighten the mood. It doesn’t work. Lipton had some heavy-duty messaging about post-traumatic stress disorder and loving ferocity. The tone is despair. The muppets can’t change that.
In it’s best moments, LUTHER is this catalyst for random acts of kindness. Schultz pulls out moments of simple goodness from the complex story. Each character has a good deed moment that goes awry. As the focal point of attention, Michael Salinas (Luther) endears with a quiet vulnerability. Watching Salinas go from gentle lap dog to attack is disturbing.
Although nothing in the program or press materials indicated a time period, I set it in the near future. Not only were the Foremans kind to a war vet, other people were empathetic to him too. That doesn’t seem like a current sentiment toward veterans. In addition to the adult adoption, hints of the middle class disappearing - the Foremans’ precarious neighborhood, finances and employment - suggested an upcoming era of eating chili out of a can and wine out of a jug. Or maybe I was just thinking too hard because I really wanted to get it. I was definitely pulled into this bizarro world but I never quite put the entire puzzle together.
If you see LUTHER, tell me what he’s all about. I really want to know,
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn
Written by Ethan Lipton
Directed by Joanie Schultz
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Thru March 2nd
Buy Tickets at www.steeptheatre.com