Playwright: Sharyn Rothstein. At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets: 847-673-6300 or Northlight.org; $30-$81. Runs through: Apr. 23
There's a haunting realization at the core of Sharyn Rothstein's By the Water, now playing at Northlight Theatre: Not even a Category 1 hurricane can devastate like unchecked pride.
Director Cody Estle serves up a beautiful, modern-day tribute to America's favorite dead salesman, Willy Loman, and asks if all the attention paid to the white, working class shmoe in the 70-year interim has really done him any good.
In By the Water, we are greeted with the wreckage of a living room blown apart in the devastating wake of 2012's hurricane Sandy. Marty and Mary Murphy ( Francis Guinan and Penny Slusher ) try to rebuild their home and rally their neighbors to return to their homes, too. But Marty's obsession with everyone staying their ground becomes so unwavering and irrational that everyone he loves gets painted as an enemy.
Marty labels his neighbors Andrea and Phil ( Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear ), his sons Sal and Brian ( Jordan Brown and Joel Reitsma ), and anyone who questions his rebuilding efforts a traitor. But those with the most bluster often have the most to hide.
As Marty and Mary Murphy, Francis Guinan and Penny Slusher create an instantly recognizable long-married couple. They're adept at making the couple at home in their internal conflicts. Slusher's Mary is both shrewd enough to dig her husband out of debt and secure new housing, but sweet enough to do it all in secret to avoid bruising his ego. And Francis Guinan paces his home like a cornered animal as Marty, knowing that an end to his comfort is fast approaching and terrified in the face of it.
Joel Reitsma and Amanda Drinkall return to old habits as Brian and Emily, both licking wounds from their own private destructions. Despite the impulse they have to distrust each other, they are open. Despite the landscape of destruction, they occupy, they may have found a seed of hope.
Only one thing has become hard to stomach ( and it's hard to fault By the Water for it ), but thanks to modern politics, any sympathy that may have been reserved for Marty Murphy, who cheats his loved ones to avoid the hard consequences he knows he'll face, is depleted. Sal remarks coldly to his father that "You couldn't ask for help, you had to take it," and with that, I wanted an outcome beyond easy forgiveness and unearned comfort for him. That said, a little debris barely detracts from this powerhouse of a production.