Playwright Samuel D. Hunter pulls us into this Midwest reality. His set up is authentically familiar; the economy is shutting down a healthcare facility. Only a few residents and staff are left. One of the gentlemen has advanced Alzheimer’s. When a blizzard hits, his disappearance causes growing concern.
Set Designer Chelsea Warren constructs a true nursing home lobby complete with automatic sliding doors. The faulty doors continually open and close at odd times. The movement aids the storytelling. The audience, along with the characters, look to the entryway anticipating someone coming in. Especially in the first act, it builds the mystery and the urgency of the missing resident.
Under the deft direction of Joanie Schultz, the first act unfolds with a natural rhythm. Conversations overlap. Backstories are teased out. Hunter engages our interest in his band of misfit characters. From her first appearance, Mary Ann Thebus (Etta) is the grand dame of the stage and the nursing home. Thebus asserts herself in unexpected ways. She won’t allow the staff to patronize her. Her feistiness has perfect comedic timing. Whether she zings a one liner or physically expresses her exasperation, she is hilarious. Within this dire storyline, the quirky side of many of the characters garners big laughs. The zealous Matt Farabee (Ken) is the bible-thumping, temporary cook. The bumbling Steve Key (Jeremy) is the ineffective administrator. And my personal favorite Ernest Perry Jr. (Tom), who spends most of his time watching television, is hysterical.
The show is about life and death. Hunter wants the audience to wrestle with immortality and morality. Thebus and Amanda Drinkall (Faye) have particularly poignant exchanges on the subject. Thebus plays it mostly stoic making her bouts of emotion all the more genuine. Drinkall embodies her character’s uncertainty about life. The outstanding Drinkall delivers an organic performance. Her pauses in dialogue make it all seem as if her thoughts are impromptu.
Even though there is such a normalcy in REST, Act 2 gets a little contrived. At one point, there is a couch scene between Drinkall and McKenzie Chinn (Ginny) that tries too hard to tie up loose ends. It feels very sitcom-esque as they come to an understanding. Their secondary storyline doesn’t necessarily need resolution. Farabee and Key have a similar, out-of-place exchange about life after the blizzard. It just feels artificial. Hunter’s attempts to tidy up relationships doesn’t seem as true to life as most of his script. Despite these clunky interactions, Thebus ends the show in a riveting and beautiful scene with William J. Norris (Gerald). I found both final moments in Act 1 and 2 spine tingling for the emotional reality of each of the situations. REST is restless contemplation-inducing.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes
At Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Joanie Schultz
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
No performances on September 23, 30 and October 9.
Thru October 12th
Buy Tickets at www.victorygardens.org
Production photo by Michael Courier
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