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Superb cast can’t rescue ‘Solstice’ from its own misery

Michael (Lawrence Grimm) Adie (Andrew Cutler) have rare conversatiwith their neighbor Hannah (Meighan Gerachis) A Red Orchid Theatre's United States

Michael (Lawrence Grimm) and Adie (Andrew Cutler) have a rare conversation with their neighbor Hannah (Meighan Gerachis) in A Red Orchid Theatre's United States premiere of "Solstice." | Michael Brosilow photo

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‘SOLSTICE’

Somewhat recommened

When: Through Feb. 23

Where: A Red Orchid Theatre,
1531 N. Wells

Tickets : $25-$30

Info: (312) 943-8722;
aredorchidtheatre.org

Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
with one intermission

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Updated: January 14, 2014 7:47PM



Here is my dilemma: The cast of “Solstice,” British playwright Zinnie Harris’ nightmarish end-of-days drama, now in its U.S. premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre, is blisteringly good. (And those blisters are almost literal.)

But the play itself — much like “The Wheel,” Harris’ allegorically overloaded saga about the horrors of war, recently staged by Steppenwolf Theatre — might well be described as a thudding “cataclysm on meth.” It is an unmitigated contemporary horror show, awash in notions of religious hypocrisy and loss of faith, terrorism, environmental degradation, the corruption that comes with money and power, the broken connections between parents and children, and the endless cycle of violence, punishment and revenge set in motion by all of these ills of civilization.

The whole thing ends up feeling like little more than a catalogue of misery and degradation. And, as is the case with all politically correct writers, Harris neatly lays the blame at the feet of her own society.

The story unspools in a poor, “boggy” neighborhood full of crumbling buildings and a church. It is the place long called home by a middle-aged couple — Michael (Lawrence Grimm, who brings a riveting yet subdued fanaticism to his portrayal), a candlemaker, and his long-suffering wife, Terese (Kirsten Fitzgerald, a haunted and haunting presence), who has recently grown very ill. They are the parents of a bright but secretive teenage son, Adie (an ideally wiry, tightly wound Andrew Cutler), who has recently become infatuated with Sita (radiant Sarah Price, wonderful in a radically different turn following her success in “Northanger Abbey”). A strange, spirited girl, Sita, who has a ruffian “former boyfriend,” Sol (Kevin Matthew Reyes), has already been the victim of a horrible attack. And Sol is now exerting a poisonous influence over her younger brother, Jean (the cadaverously thin, wildly fiery Danny Luwe). Boxes of contraband explosives become a crucial part of their story, as does a prison clearly meant to suggest a homegrown Guantanamo.

Terese is often tended to by her earthy, more modern-minded friend, Hannah (Meighan Gerachis, ideal as a childless maternal force). And she is unexpectedly visited by her brother, Thomas (an easily smarmy Steve Schine), a businessman who lives in the city, has powerful connections and tries to save his sister and her family from a land-grab he himself has helped set in motion.

Harris not only stretches belief at every turn, generating a sort of grotesque hysteria to replace clear thinking, but she scrambles reality to fit her own unspecified yet easily detectable politics.

Director Karen Kessler (who years ago staged Sarah Kane’s “Blasted” at A Red Orchid, the work of another British “end of the road” dramatist) deftly juggles the play’s tension and mystery, extreme cruelty and pathos. The environmental set co-designed by Joey Wade and Aaron O’Neill captures a sense of ruin and decay. And Brando Triantafillou’s original music and sound design enhance the sense that we are all headed to hell, whether it’s a place of fire or ice.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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