Stunning ‘Men Should Weep’ explores dynamic between poverty and family
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic July 15, 2014 3:16PM
Lori Myers and Ada Grey star in Griffin Theatre Company‚Äôs Chicago premiere of "Men Should Weep" by Ena Lamont Stewart, directed by Robin Witt. | Michael Brosilow
‘MEN SHOULD WEEP’
When: Through Aug. 10
Where: Griffin Theatre Company
at Raven Theatre Complex,
6157 N. Clark
Info: (866) 811-4111;
Run time: 2 hours 25 minutes,
with two intermissions
Updated: July 15, 2014 9:04PM
A note to all those who might need a reminder of the raw beauty and gut-wrenching emotion that can be generated by live theater at its very best: Take a look at the Griffin Theatre production of “Men Should Weep.” The Scottish playwright Ena Lamont Stewart’s rarely seen classic debuted in 1947, and has received only sporadic but triumphant revivals since, and now is receiving its Chicago debut. Under the galvanic direction of Robin Witt, a large cast is turning in some of the most gorgeous performances you will find on any stage in this city, and they are doing so in a play of genuine substance.
Set in a Glasgow tenement during the Depression era of the 1930s, this sharply observed, slice-of-life drama is a stunning portrait of people confronted by all the calamities that accompany deep poverty, and the ways in which such poverty can simultaneously warp and enhance human relationships. Watching the play at the Raven Theatre, a handsome North Side storefront, I kept wishing this production eventually could tour Chicago’s more troubled neighborhoods. The story would be instantly recognizable.
At the center of Stewart’s play is the Morrison family, led by the worn-to-the-bone matriarch, Maggie (Lori Myers in a magnificent, force-of-nature performance that should not be missed). Maggie’s still handsome husband, John (Scot West), is mostly out of work, out of the house and reluctant to accept responsibility, but she remains madly in love with him, and he, in his fashion, with her.
If Maggie is looking for a helping hand to care for John’s aging mother, Granny (Maggie Cain), who is shuttled between her son and daughter’s apartments with nothing but her tiny pension to protect her, she had better look elsewhere. John only can rage at their pretty and rebellious daughter, Jenny (Ellie Reed), who is starved for a better life and hellbent on leaving home. And when Maggie tries to feed her always hungry younger kids — Ernie (Michael Saguto), Edie (Ada Grey), and the tubercular child we never see, who ends up in a hospital (away from the family’s rotting, germ-ridden apartment, ideally conjured by Courtney O’Neill’s set) — she can usually do no better than tea, and a bit of jam and bread. She also is impotent to help her alcoholic, deeply troubled married son, Alec (Curtis Jackson), whose sexy wife, Isa (Amanda Powell), drives him insane with jealousy.
Given the realities, it is no wonder that Maggie’s sister, Lily (a perfectly tuned performance by Katherine Banks), has sworn off marriage and kids in an attempt to evade her sister’s plight. But while Lily helps out whenever possible, relations between the siblings, who clearly love each other, are riddled with tension. Neither quite understands how the other lives.
Maggie’s neighbors, deftly played by Christina Gorman, Ashley Neal and Roxanne Saylor, bring their own upheaval to the table. One is regularly beaten by her husband, another cannot keep her kid free of lice, all are financially strapped. Yet from time to time these women find solidarity in each others’ company.
Maggie’s motto is “one day at a time.” And while those days seem to pile up without hope of relief, Stewart never forgets to tap into the aching hearts of her characters. And it is those fiercely beating hearts that can make an audience weep, and also rejoice.