New Leaf Theatre presents
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
Life is a series of stories. Each person is a composition of tales they’ve heard, lived and told. There is no happy ending because there is no ending. There are only beginnings.
New Leaf Theatre, in conjunction with Chicago DCA Theatre, presents the world premiere of LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING. Silver narrates the story of her life. She looks back on childhood events and stories that shaped her identity. Born without a father, Silver grows up with her mother’s quirky philosophies. When tragedy befalls her mother, Silver begins again. She goes to live with a blind lightkeeper. He has his own stories and they become hers. Mr. Pew tells Silver HIStory of the townsfolk. He connects himself into an ancestral past with vivid personal recollections. The reenactments stir up ancient dirt from a fresh perspective. Silver uses this past to pivot herself toward an uncertain future. LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING is a sweeping tale of young girl making up her own coming-of-age story.
Under the direction of Jessica Hutchison, the show quickly drops anchor in unfamiliar waters. It’s almost like the story starts in chapter 10 with the narrator helping the audience catch-up. The effect pushes the action forward in the introduction of a series of distinct and unusual characters. Initially, heavy Scottish brogues and detailed lyrical prose challenge effective listening skills. After a short transition, the ambiance relaxes and the audience settles in for a cozy spinning of yarns. In the lead, Silver is played by two actors. The narrator is Tien Doman. Her younger self is Caroline Phillips. An energetic Doman dominates framing her past recollections. Balancing light-hearted and confused, Doman muses on life’s moments. Her strong performance is both poignantly funny and sad. Phillips is pure precocious. Ron Butts (Pew) is perfectly eccentric. Their unlikely pairing is enchanting enough to be the entire focus of the show. It’s old-fart-meets-orphan-Annie adorable! But theirs is just one story of the many twirling through the play. It is puzzle pieces wanting to be put together for a complete picture. The tight ensemble adds to the entertaining farce by morphing into multiple roles at a rapid rate. In fact, Lea Pascal (Molly) readjusts skirt length to transform from historical to contemporary within seconds. It’s impressive. Among the supporting players, Scott Ray Merchant is a standout with many hilarious, subtle but distinct
Playwright Georgette Kelly adapted the “Lighthousekeeping” novel by Jeanette Winterson. The unusual characters and the storytelling premise are pure fascination. Kelly does a decent job bringing the essences to stage. Act 1 compels with its whimsical charm. Act 2 gets a little mired down in Silver’s reality. Some of the enchantment is broken as imaginative innocence grows up into adult lunacies. Although Kelly translates the collection of stories into a complete play, there are some vague points of inclusion, notably the snippets about famous people, Stephenson and Darwin. Wanting clarity of these stories within the stories, I have a strong urge now to read the actual book. LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING intrigues as a never-ending story even after the curtain.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission
At DCA Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph
Based on novel by Jeanette Winterson
Adapted by Georgette Kelly
Directed by Jessica Hutchison
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru July 17th
Production photography courtesy of John W. Sissom Jr.