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.
(L to R) Michaela Petro and John Henry Roberts. Photo by Heath Hays.
By Erin Shea Brady
Strawdog’s THE NIGHT SEASON exemplifies the importance of championing plays made by women. Directed by Elly Green, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’ play is bold and funny and powerful. Chicago’s reputation for raw, visceral theater often has had a masculine connotation — that early Steppenwolf, Sam Shepard grit. Plays like THE NIGHT SEASON can and should redefine that hyper-masculine narrative. Green’s ardent production is equal parts visceral and vulnerable, and proves that truthful, messy, human theater is female.
From the opening moment, played beautifully by Janice O’Neill as the ageless, ever-hopeful Lily O’Hanlon, this is a play grounded in character. In a seaside Irish town, three sisters, along with their father and grandmother (O’Neill), navigate life without their mother, Esther, who has long-since abandoned them for London. While there’s certainly a Chekhovian element to its structure, Lenkiewicz’s play is fresh, present and darkly funny.
Though slow moving early on, Green has a gift for pacing and knows when to let the play settle, trusting the subtler yet equally specific moments built into the play’s transitions and quieter moments, in which we truly get to know the inner lives of these people. Claire Chrzan’s lighting and Mike Mroch’s set design highlight the small but powerful moments of incidental storytelling.
The two-person scenes truly anchor this piece. Green has done well to mine this rich text for its gold, and true to Strawdog’s aesthetic, this is a company of generous actors who play well together. Michaela Petro, as Rose, is the epitome of everything Chicago theater boasts. Her choices are bold, developed and nuanced. She attacks each moment with tremendous heart, commitment and depth, gifting the audience with a captivating performance that keeps us fully engaged. The moments between Rose and John (John Henry Roberts), the English actor who comes to town to film a W.B. Yeats biopic, are honest and intimate. Justine C. Turner is deeply endearing as the eldest sister Judith, whose on-again, off-again relationship with Michael Reyes (Gary Malone) lends itself to much of the play’s humor.
Under Green’s direction, Lenkiewicz’s play is strong, poetic and skillfully resists the trap of unearned sentimentality while maintaining its heart.
I highly recommend it.