Review “A Small Fire” (Steep Theatre): Ignites Deep Reflection

Friday, July 11, 2014 Permalink

steepSteep Theatre presents the Chicago Premiere of A SMALL FIRE.

Playwright Adam Bock introduces a tough as nails construction manager and then strips her of her power.  Emily (played deftly by Melissa Riemer) is afflicted with a mysterious disease.  As her condition worsens, the fierce Riemer is forced into dependency.  Bock’s story is about self identification and relationships.  Who are we when we no longer have the capacity to be who we were?  And how does how we treated people in the past affect how they will take care of us in the future?  A SMALL FIRE is an evocative look at drastic life changes.  

Director Joanie Schultz paces this drama with an authentic subtly.  In initial scenes, Riemer plays it brash and offensive.  She deals with her foreman (played by James Allen), her daughter (played by Julia Siple) and her husband (played by Robert Koon) with the same impersonal disappointment.  Riemer continually sputters a litany of wrong doings.  Later as the disease progresses, Riemer transforms.  She sits meekly on stage unable to hear the discussions around her. Her minimal interactions are poignant.  Her true essences are revealed.  Riemer is quietly transfixing.  

As Riemer shuts down, the people in her life struggle to redefine their role.  In my favorite scene, the effervescent Allen learns to communicate with his boss.  Their tight bond is apparent as the happy-go-lucky Allen accepts a directive from Riemer.  In her more personal relationships, the past and the present have bigger issues to resolve.  Siple is in the midst of getting married to someone her mother vocally disdains.  Siple’s emotional turmoil is apparent.  Her interactions with Koon are the most telling.  Siple has strong feelings about her parents’ marriage.  Regularly playing intermediary, Koon tries to soothe her.  Siple’s resistance to acceptance has this understated sentiment of like mother, like daughter.     

At the heart of this play is the marriage between Riemer and Koon.  Their love story unfolds with unexpected bursts of honesty.  At their daughter’s wedding, an impromptu  revelation is heartbreaking.  Their roles completely flip in their union.  Can that work? The final scene is unforgettable.  

A SMALL FIRE evokes plenty of musings as I put myself in each character’s shoes.  How would I handle a dramatic twist in one of my significant relationships?  Or how would I respond to being dependent?  Usually, Steep’s edgy dramas deal with volatile external forces.  This time, the implosion is on the inside.  Steep holds up the mirror for personal reflection.   

Running Time:  Eighty minutes with no intermission

At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn

Written by Adam Bock

Directed by Joanie Schultz

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm July 20th, 27th and August 3rd, 10th 

Thru August 16th 

Buy Tickets at 

Production photo courtesy of Lee Miller.

 For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago

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