Under the Blue Sky at Steep Theatre | Theater review
Steep’s ensemble deserves better than the thinly plotted romantic entanglements of David Eldridge’s vignettes.
Caroline Neff is quickly becoming Chicago theater’s Queen of Self-Abasement. In recent productions like Steep’s A Brief History of Helen of Troy and Where We’re Born in Steppenwolf’s Next Up program, she’s specialized in playing characters who put themselves in incredibly humiliating, just-shy-of-degrading situations. But rather than turning these women into doormats, Neff fills them with a raw, primal fury of the sort usually associated with the great man-killers of Greek tragedy. Early on in British playwright David Eldridge’s 2000 round-robin about three pairs of schoolteachers, Neff’s character—who’s carrying a torch for a man who doesn’t return her feelings—announces she has no intention of pouring her “heart and guts on the floor.” Then, of course, Neff does just that.
Her performance, as well as those of Alex Gillmor and Julia Siple in the second of the play’s three scenes, almost makes up for the fact that Eldridge’s characters have very little depth and say not very interesting things. Siple and Gillmor play a “slut” and “wimp,” respectively, having an unsuccessful one-night stand. The actors work wonders with the darkly comic scene by playing it straight, but there’s only so much they can do with dialogue that boils down to name-calling. Things take a turn for the drippy in the final playlet, which shows an older couple taking tentative steps toward romance before marveling at the clear blue sky, presumably to justify the play’s title. This cast deserves better.