St. Colm's Inch
By Robert Koon. Dir. Anna C. Bahow. With Elaine Rivkin, Mark Ulrich, Danica Ivancevic. Chicago Dramatists.
Grief is a natural for the stage. It promises grandly dramatic emotions: anger, pain, despair. But it's also a danger zone: If characters are simply defined by loss, without forward-moving action, they just tread the same stretch of water. Koon's new play never stops treading. Marie (Rivkin), the ex-wife of a recovering alcoholic, John (Ulrich), has been killed in a car accident. When her sister Camille (Ivancevic) arrives, the tension between John and Camille seems filtered, without grit—as do their emotions for dead Marie. Any conflict is pushed away; even the potentially theatrical, if predictable, hookup between the ex-husband and the sister happens offstage.
Generously talented performers are on display here, doing what they can. Rivkin speaks dead Marie's memories with natural ease; both Rivkin and Ivancevic locate their characters' emotional centers. But those memory passages also indicate the play's static quality. With Bahow's subdued direction, we float on the surface without a sense that something's at stake, that these characters' emotional undertow could pull them under at any moment. (Isn't that the hallmark of grief?) Toward the end, Truman (Peterson), John's literary agent, tries to shake his client out of hack novel-writing and into more meaningful work. This too-little, too-late confrontation points out what the play's been missing all along.—Novid Parsi