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Living Quarters
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2010-03-03

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Playwright: Brian Friel. At: Strangeloop Theatre at Trap Door, 1655 W. Cortland. Phone: 773-276-0458; $15 Runs through: March 14

There's this career officer in the Irish Defense Forces, you see, who married a much younger wife just before he left for the Middle East to serve with the United Nations peacekeepers. When he returns, a decorated hero, five months later, he learns that his wife and his son have succumbed to sexual attraction leading to a brief, but intense, affair. If this story calls forth vague memories of Greek and Roman literature, it's not your imagination—indeed, our play is sometimes subtitled, "After Hippolytus"—but you can discard all that classroom cant about "the inevitability of tragedy." Brian Friel is not about to let the Fates take the blame for his characters' unhappy outcome.

Friel was still at a stage in his literary development in 1977 to employ a convention invoked by many beginning playwrights—namely, an omniscient narrator, identified only as "Sir," whose duties are to deliver exposition, comment on the action, and ascertain that we understand everything the author is trying to do ( cf. Pirandello, Brecht and the role of the chorus leader in classical drama, for you ambitious playgoers desiring homework ) . Structurally, this should reduce the action to mere audio-visual assistance for the analysis delivered by the aforementioned writer-surrogate.

But Friel refuses to bully his creations. Sir may remind his unfortunate clan that this is a re-enactment of events taking place in their memories, but they are still permitted to argue their cases—even attempt to alter the facts—as they ( and we ) consider the individual deeds contributing to the dissolution of a good family and the death of its innocent patriarch. In performance, what this means is that our attention remains focused on the Chekhovian dynamics simmering below the placid surface of a modern, small-town, middle-class household, now forced to re-live their transgressions until they come to terms with them and move on.

Living Quarter's slippery ( some might say, sophomoric ) multidimensional conceits might exceed the skills of most theater troupes embarking on only their second production, but the company assembled by director Thomas Murray is more than equal to the task. The adroit cast keeps us firmly anchored in the intimate scenario ( in particular, Jillian Rafa's minimalist approach to the potentially disruptive Sir ) , while the technical staff delivers environmental artistry ranging from Kate Jordan's pitch-perfect dialects to Glen Anderson's museum-accurate scenic design and Leigh Barrett's seamlessly shifting lighting scheme.


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