Stage almost empty but full of emotion in ‘Yellow Moon’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org April 28, 2013 9:14PM
The attention of a rebellious Glasgow teen (Josh Salt) intrigues a shy African-Muslim girl (Ashleigh LaThrop) in “Yellow Moon,” now at Writers’ Theatre. | Michael Brosilow photo
When: Through Aug. 4
Where: Writers’ Theatre at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
Info: (847) 242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org
Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Updated: May 30, 2013 2:57PM
During the course of the 2012-13 season, Chicago audiences have had several opportunities to make the acquaintance of David Greig, the Scottish playwright who grew up in Nigeria and possesses a distinctive flair for language and a griot’s natural gift for pure but larger-than-life storytelling.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre hosted the National Theatre of Scotland in a marvelous production of Greig’s “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.” Remy Bumppo Theatre is presenting his sharp if talky adaptation of August Strindberg’s “The Creditors.” And now, in its intimate Books on Vernon space, Writers’ Theatre is giving us a vivid, blistering account of “Yellow Moon,” a play for four actors that, at its heart, is about the desperate human need to be fully and truthfully “seen” by another person.
The stage is bare aside from four simple wooden chairs. Yet each of the many locations in which this 80-minute story unfolds is seared into the mind’s eye by Greig’s powerful descriptive writing and the total conviction of superb actors under the direction of Stuart Carden.
It all begins in Glasgow, where Lee (Josh Salt), a skinny, rebellious 17-year-old with a long record in the juvenile courts and social services, lives with his depressive, alcoholic single mother, Jenni (Karen Janes Woditsch), who is being pursued by Billy (John Lister), a furniture salesman and amateur boxer.
Restless and lost, Lee is strolling through an all-hours superstore one night when he catches sight of Leila (the breathtaking Ashleigh LaThrop), who is thumbing through celebrity magazines. A shy, beautiful girl from a well-to-do African-Muslim refugee family, she gets good grades and is the quintessential “good girl,” though there is something volcanic and self-punishing inside this slender, almost always silent girl. Lee makes her a laughable proposal, telling her of his business plan to become a pimp. And while it might have sent her running, she is intrigued by this boy simply because he pays attention to her and makes her feel real.
When Lee is caught stealing from Billy, the older man ends up murdered, and Lee and Leila go on the run, heading into the Scottish Highlands, where Billy hopes to track down the father he never knew. The pair’s odyssey is a primal odyssey full of surprises. And it is an especially great awakening for Leila.
Salt deftly captures his character’s adolescent volatility, sullenness and fear. Lister, burly, spirited and sly, is the father figure who does his work far too late. And Woditsch is especially winning in a second role, as the celebrity who is seen by everyone and yet no one. But it is LaThrop, with her luminous face, matchstick figure, easy grace and marvelous mix of the demure and daring, who steals the show. Whether swimming or dancing, beating down a brush fire, or biting into the still warm heart of a freshly eviscerated wild deer, she is wondrous to watch in this story that plays out on a stage filled only with words and raw emotion.