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.
Tricia Rogers and Clara Byczkowski | Steven Townshend
By Bec Willett
It’s often said that a play isn’t ready to be produced until its first full production is over. For new works in Chicago storefront theater that’s a hard pill to swallow, yet, if we are in earnest about developing and promoting Chicago playwrights it’s a necessary one. Such is the case in Idle Muse Theatre Company’s world premiere production of GIRL FOUND by Barbara Lhota.
Underneath GIRL FOUND’s excessive length and clunky dialogue is a story of merit. After disappearing at the age of eleven, Sophie Sobin (Clara Byczkowski) reappears five years later and is taken back by her family with open arms. However, Sophie is also suffering from memory loss and it’s difficult to determine just exactly what it is she remembers about her not-so-functional family before she left. Facilitated by Sarah Lewis’ thoughtful set of multiple locations that also manage to transcend time, Sophie and her family grapple with their new relationship. As they take this journey, the play explores what it is to be a family, addiction, desperation and most of all the age-old yet ever-relevant “all that glitters is not gold” – despite how hard we might try to make it so.
Much of the first half of GIRL FOUND is focused on exposition and introductions to myriad characters, making it difficult to initially figure out through which character’s lens we are supposed to view the story. Despite following a fairly standard television crime-show structure, this exposition – along with too many profile-heavy stage pictures – render the story flat, lacking the drive a good Dick Wolf episode uses to leave the audiences wanting more. Even so, most of the cast have been able to take what they’ve been given and make the most of it. Some of the actors, like Tricia Rogers as addict Eva, have done their homework, and Sara Robinson is the master of the quick change, presenting multiple fully-drawn characters with just the right amount of humor and heart to embody an airy foil for the intense subject matter.
It’s around halfway through that the integrity of Lhota’s concept starts to bloom. Here actors Byczkowski (Sophie) and Whitney Dottery (her friend, Yasmen) are finally given a highly-charged and active scene in which to play – and it’s electric. It fuels us through intermission into Act Two until yet again we find ourselves cut off, in the weeds of exposition. While the actors continue to access what they can, without the activeness in the writing, the connection fizzles – disabled further by the distancing of the raised and stubbornly proscenium Edge Theater space.
As a script that’s received development opportunities from multiple Chicago theater companies, the pertinence of the ideas explored in GIRL FOUND are undeniable. Yet it was Idle Muse who put their heart and hard work into providing the final step in this process: a production. Despite this play’s issues, that’s something that deserves recognition.