In ‘Moment,’ an unexpected visit stirs one family’s kitchen nightmares
The proof is in the making of the salad, the pouring of the tea and the wholly natural interplay of the distinctive, often antagonistic personalities who gather around a kitchen table. And the flawless execution of this seemingly ordinary behavior, now on display at Steep Theatre, serves as just the latest example of the exemplary ensemble work that so often sets Chicago actors apart.
Steep, that hard-driving storefront with a taste for dark plays about the troubled relationships that can fester both within families and beyond, is now presenting the U.S. premiere of “Moment,” Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan’s drama of raw nerves that debuted to great acclaim at London’s Bush Theatre last year. It is now in the hands of director Jonathan Berry, that masterful choreographer and orchestrator of bleak intimacy who last season blew the lid off the place with his production of “Festen.”
Kinahan orchestrates a slow build to her story, but it is clear from the start that something is not quite right in the suburban Dublin home of the Lynch family. Initially it appears that Niamh Lynch (Cynthia Marker), one of three grown siblings, is simply stressed to the breaking point by what might be early dementia in her mother, Teresa (Maggie Cain). She also craves the kind of approval from her mother that the woman seems to reserve for both Niamh’s married sister, Clara (Julia Siple), a nurse and mother, and for the sisters’ long-absent brother, Nial (Josh Odor), now a successful artist living in England.
The knot of tension tightens when Nial makes an unexpected visit “home” with an attractive, adoring woman, Ruth Pigeon (Cary Lee Burton), who is something more than a girlfriend. As it turns out, Nial has a very troubled past, and the fallout of his calamitous action as a 16-year-old (he is now 30), has left a profound imprint on every member of the family, most particularly Niamh, who has been choked by her mother’s determined mask of denial.
Do I fully buy the extreme secret that is the motor behind this story? Can’t say that I do. But the actors’ full investment in it makes all the difference. And the small shadings of behavior between siblings, lovers, and mother and children are etched with absolute truth.
Marker sustains her taut-to-snapping edge with impressive ferocity from start to finish, and you watch as her sweet and decent boyfriend, Fin (fine work by Alex Gillmor), begins to see she might just be carrying too much baggage. Siple gives her latest astonishingly natural performance, exuding an easy warmth that is deftly supplemented by James Allen as her happily non-neurotic husband, Dave.
Cain brilliantly captures Teresa’s mix of willfulness and opaqueness. Odor is just enigmatic and emotionally knotted enough. Burton skillfully suggests the tension between desire and suppressed anxiety involved in loving a gifted but deeply damaged man. And Grace Melon, an obviously gifted high school sophomore, is spot-on as Hillary, the teenager in a hormone rush.
Designer Dan Stratton’s working kitchen set adds a layer of reality. But it is the actors at the table who turn up the temperature.