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.
Pictured: Logan Hulick. Photo by Lindsay Williams.
By Bec Willett
You should definitely try to sit in the front row at Right Brain Project’s current production of Michaela Heldemann’s new play ODESSA. An intimate production about a party invitation gone awry in the catacombs of Odessa, Ukraine, it exemplifies how the creativity and thriftiness of Chicago storefront theater can make a little turn into a lot.
American journalist Andrew (Logan Hulick) may wish he wasn’t so lazy, but that doesn’t make it so. After skipping a basic Google search before accepting an invite to a rave party with some locals in the catacombs, Andrew finds himself hurt, shoeless and alone until Dariya (Hannah Williams) turns up. Armed with years of knowledge of the tunnels and a baggie full of pills, Dariya becomes his guide, in return, of course, for a favor. While Andrew’s problem initially seems solved, when Dariya realizes her compass is missing the path for them both is no longer so clear.
While this play is primarily a two-actor play, it’s Alison Schaufler’s extended improvised greeting as Ukranian teenager Masha that really sets the foundation for the show. Not only is she charming, but she prepares us for the proximity of the forthcoming performances, the dimness of the lighting and – even more importantly – immerses us in the world of the play. On this front, Hulick and Williams offer relentless commitment and specificity, harnessing the intimacy and authenticity provided by Schaufler. Two-handers are a risk – and this is no exception. In what could easily become two people pointlessly running around in a black box in the dark, it’s the actors’ commitment to make every moment count as they climb and slide and fake bleed around the theater that makes it both meaningful and enveloping.
Colin David’s direction and scenic design, along with the other design elements of ODESSA, are insightfully simple. Here there is no big budget to recreate a fully realized cave maze. Instead graffitied walls, ramps and layered platforms serve as the craggy edges and damp tunnels of the catacombs – and it works. Aided by Brendan Monte’s haunting sounds, Becs Bartle’s flashlight-based lighting design, and the strong performances from the cast, the budget might be small but the impact is not.
Clark isn’t a quiet street – especially on a Saturday evening. And yet, as I became immersed in ODESSA’s catacombs the distant sounds of cars that were so easily identifiable at the start of the play started to slip away, and I was left considering how real our environments are after all. A big question to leave with as a result of a few platforms and flashlights and a lot of smart decisions by talented, committed artists.
ODESSA runs through October 6th. For more information visit therbp.org.