Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
Cyd Blakewell and Jay Worthington in Melissa Ross’ A LIFE EXTRA ORDINARY at the Gift Theatre. Photo by Claire Demos.
Review: A LIFE EXTRA ORDINARY at The Gift Theater
by Erin Shea Brady
At the Gift Theater, Melissa Ross’ A LIFE EXTRA ORDINARY is immersive and personal from the start. We are guided to our seats by Annabel (played so beautifully by Cyd Blakewell) who takes care to make us each feel comfortable in her space. There is no real division between the artist and audience in John Gawlik’s heartfelt presentation of this world. The rest of the cast takes a seat among us, and Annabel begins to tell us the story of her life and death.
The unfolding of this mystery is fun—it surely keeps us hooked—but this story moves far beyond a “whodunnit”. Through Annabel, we are led to contemplate life’s finality, it’s tragedy, it’s unpredictability—so much so that my sensitive, hypochondriacal soul was way on edge. We’re all going to die—and when we go, so do our memories, our thoughts, our dreams, our minds. It’s scary stuff, and this play puts it all in the room with us.
So what do we do while we’re here? How do we spend the time we have, however unpredictable? How do we make peace enough to not let the fear of “one wrong move” keep us from moving at all?
I have no idea. And I don’t think that this play is meant to answer any of those questions —just to pose them, to keep us aware and humble and in the moment, to encourage us to love hard.
While moments of this play are quite distressing, others are funny and light. It’s all extremely human—and the talented ensemble rises to it. For such an emotional piece, there are very few moments that are overplayed. John Kelly Connolly is a stand-out as the small-town police chief who has to do his job and be the authority and take charge of Annabel’s investigation—even while grieving for the girl he has known all her life. We feel, through this ensemble, how a tragedy can reach.
This is the first play that I’ve seen at The Gift’s intimate home in Jefferson Park. I was so impressed with the way in which this design team, led by Gawlik, used every inch of this little space to tell their story. There were some truly lovely design choices made that further solidified Annabel’s agency over the way in which we experience her story.
This is a beautiful, haunting and present piece of theater with such memorable and heartfelt artistry. I’m fortunate to have experienced it.