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The Golf Ball
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2014-06-25

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Playwright: Kestutis Nakas. At: The Bridge in The Orphanage at First Lutheran Church, 634 W. 31st St. Tickets: 312-307-5194; www.brownpapertickets.com; $12. Runs through: July 6

There's this twentysomething playwright named Ian, see, who's in love with a would-be actress named Sheena. He's written a play for her, rented the Theatre at the Lake facility and invited all his family to see it, but Ian's showbiz-diva mom sneers at both his art and his muse—even as she, herself, cougar-stalks a novelist more than a decade her junior. Meanwhile, her invalid brother ( who might have AIDS ), has allowed the apartment building he owns to deteriorate, despite the efforts of oafish manager Sammy, whose druggie daughter Mosh suffers from unrequited passion for Ian and disdain for lovesick schoolteacher Maury. Offering avuncular and largely unheeded advice is Sean's doctor and old family friend Sol.

If your immediate response is to chuckle at the notion of a best-selling author seeking a cure for his writers' block by aimlessly hitting golf balls into Lake Michigan ( an environmentally unfriendly hobby that will prove the undoing of the infatuated Sheena )—well, Chekhov always insisted that The Seagull was a comedy. Kestutis Nakas' tidy adaptation dispenses with bored Russian aristocrats summering in Crimea to zero in on bored Lincoln Park bohos-turned—boojies with an analogical checklist replete with references to Ten Chimneys, Harbor County, Vanity Fair magazine, Meryl Streep and a russet-jumpsuited Mosh declaring "Orange is the new black! I'm in prison!" His goal, according to a playbill note, is to provide modern playgoers the familiarity with which Chekhov's original audience would have viewed the seminal dramatist's portrait of his society.

There's no harm in attempting to render classic literature accessible to other cultures—recent seasons have seen Chekhov relocated to New England and Afghanistan—but what lends The Bridge's inaugural production its undeniably collegiate atmosphere is its performance space in the annex of Bridgeport's First Lutheran Church. The configurations mandated by the wide shallow stage, actors costumed from their own wardrobes and conference-chair seating cannot help but reinforce the DIY ambience already generated by the sight of temporarily displaced altar accoutrements at the auditorium's entrance.

Still, as a theatergoer was heard to remark during intermission, "Baby Theater, Baby Steps." What this mostly young troupe may lack in budget, equipment or rehearsal time, it more than redeems in alacrity and enthusiasm. If this vangard start-up in a South Side neighborhood on the brink of rejuvenation falls short of the professional leagues now, check back in a year or two. Steppenwolf wasn't built in a day, you know.


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