Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Isaly Viana and Magdiel Carmona. Photo by kClare McKellaston.
By Bec Willett
It’s difficult to determine what 20% Theatre Company’s production of Caridad Svich’s SPARK is really about. Sure it touches on a lot of issues: class, veteran mental health, family dysfunction, sisterhood, love, and gender roles. However neither the direction, design or script provide the audience with a path to follow, leaving us to meander around multiple dead ends.
Throughout the piece, it’s clear that this diverse group of actors are very eagerly trying to engage us with the story of recently returned war vet Lexie (Gaby Moldovan) and her sisters Ali (Jenn Geiger) and Evelyn (Isaly Viana) as they deal with their childhood issues and post-war trauma. Unfortunately, without specificity of pace or blocking to support them in finding clarity in an underdeveloped script, they – like the audience – struggle to latch onto a fulfilling journey.
SPARK is part of 20% Theatre Company’s new partnership with Collaboraction: the Social Change Residency. This initiative — which offers discounted space and resources to partners with missions focused on social change — is a great idea. However, the way in which SPARK makes use of Collaboraction’s space leaves it feeling cavernous, diminishing the actors and further ostracising the audience from engaging in an already labored narrative. This isolation is a feeling not helped by Rachel Rausher’s sparse set and Rebecca Bartle’s generalized lighting design that actively fight off focus and intimacy rather than create it.
With the extra resources provided by Collaboraction and 20% Theatre’s mission of empowering and celebrating women, SPARK could have been a production that had the power to kick you in the heart and, as Artistic Director Lindsey Bartlett puts it, be a “turning point in the lifespan of 20% Theatre.” I was really, really hoping it would but instead was left wanting.
SPARK runs through February 24th. For more information visit twentypercentchicago.com.