BWW Review: MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS) at Greenhouse Theater Center
On Midsummer's Eve, two 35-year-olds drink alone in an Edinburgh dive bar. Helena, a well-dressed divorce lawyer, sips a £40 bottle of wine while waiting for her married lover to arrive. Bob, a petty criminal, waits for a colleague to transfer the keys of a stolen car. When Helena's date stands her up and she impulsively asks Bob to help her finish the wine, the stage is set for an unconventional, thoroughly Scottish romantic comedy by playwright David Greig, with a folk-pop score by indie singer-songwriter Gordon McIntyre. Despite its lack of fairies and forests, MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS) captures the wild freedom of its Shakespearean namesake and channels the Celtic knack for pairing dry, self-deprecating humor with poetic, poignant truths.
In its Midwest premiere at the Greenhouse Theater Center, co-produced with Proxy Theatre, MIDSUMMER features brilliant performances by leading Chicago actors Chaon Cross and Patrick Mulvey. During Helena and Bob's weekend of uninhibited drinking and sex, Cross and Mulvey reveal increasingly complex layers in their respective characters. The lawyer and the criminal discover how much they actually have in common: feelings of loneliness, failure, and a haunting fear that life as they know it by their mid-30s "is, in fact, it."
Greig conveys his depressed protagonists' stories with a highly effective blend of humor and wisdom. Helena's hung-over tirade about standing up as a bridesmaid for the eighth time is endlessly relatable for anyone who has attended a family function as a single adult. Bob's realization that he wants to commit to a relationship, for once in his life, occurs during a drunken conversation with his personified male appendage (this is no G-rated play). And in the course of their midsummer escapades--which include a gangster chase, binge drinking with Goth teenagers, and visiting a fetish club--Helena and Bob often drop stunningly phrased reflections about their unfulfilled dreams, failed relationships, and fear of mortality.
MIDSUMMER's unique narrative style involves flashbacks, repeated scenes, and many moments when the actors directly address the audience with third-person commentary. Under Randy White's direction, Cross and Mulvey fluently navigate this irregular structure, as well as playing multiple minor characters, singing, and performing on several instruments. Accompanying themselves on guitar, ukulele, and keyboard, Cross and Mulvey deliver McIntyre's soulful, folk-infused tunes with heartfelt warmth. It's a rare treat to watch such talent in the intimacy of a 198-seat venue, where the rain-streaked, black and white photos decorating Mark F. Smith's set evoke the majestic, melancholy beauty of the Scottish capital.
Just as Shakespeare's Athenian lovers emerge transformed by their midsummer jaunt in the forest, Helena and Bob are forever changed by their weekend of misadventures. They may not have fairy magic to sort out the struggles of adult life, but together, they learn that change is possible--and that hope may be found where you least expect it, even in rainy Edinburgh.
MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS) runs through October 6 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614. Tickets are available at 773.404.7336 or www.greenhousetheater.org.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Review by Emily McClanathan