Playwright: Traci Godfrey
At: Artemisia Theatre @ The Den Theatre, 1331 N Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: artemisia.org/plays; $25. . Runs through: June 30
In Artemisia's Sweet Texas Reckoning, the showdown between conservative and liberal, traditional and progressive, open embrace and closed doors, all comes down to whether or not an alcoholic mother and her lesbian daughter can find a way to see eye to eye. Traci Godfrey's script was penned in 2016, but its topicality hasn't faded away. Nor has the bluntness of its theme, which dims the second act's character development and serves up a tidy ending meant to make everyone in the audience feel comfortable at the end of the day.
Ellie ( Molly Lyons ) has not seen her daughter Kate ( Scottie Caldwell ) in years. She has convinced her daughter's old flame Alan John ( John Wehrman ) to try one last attempt at east Texas courting when she comes from New York City for a visit. But Kate arrives already married to Samantha ( Anita Kavuu Ng'ang'a ), a fellow artist and staunch believer in second chances. Will Kate's prejudiced mother change her ways and accept her daughter for who she is?
Godfrey excels when she allows characters to have quiet moments of reflection, as when Samantha recounts first meeting Kate, or when Ellie confesses that she spent her marriage pining for a different future. But the playwright's overarching interest in Ellie keeps the play from its fullest complexity. We often only hear her side of things, and Kate remains a cipher whose stake in this family feels unnecessary.
Director Julie Proudfoot does great emotional work with the performers. In particular, Lyons and Wehrman dig into the rawness of their disappointment and willful inability to see outside their own wants. Anita Kavuu Ng'ang'a is refreshing in her wryness as well, to the point where one almost forgets the script's issues from moment to moment.
Ann Davis' set captures a modest kitchen and family room well, while Blake Cordell's sound design is all lonely train horns and guitar. Though the lights leave a bit to be desired, and the sound cues are often pitched too loudly, every element feels like a choice, at least.
Sitting in a 2019 Chicago audience and watching this play makes one feel odd. Are we meant to accept one potential change of heart as a stand-in for systemic change? If so, we might not learn enough from this production to translate its fictional action into reality.