Playwright: Hannah Ii-Epstein
At: Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: NothingWithoutACompany.org;$25. Runs through: July 21
There is nothing playing on Chicago stages like Hannah Ii-Epstein's Not One Batu. Many productions may be about drug addiction and family tension, but none are exploring meth culture in Hawaii. Many productions may be outdoors this season, but none are likely to examine the Lake Michigan setting in Berger Park as both paradise and prison.
Director Rachel Slavick's ensemble for Nothing Without a Company features a wealth of talented actors with roots in the Pacific Islands. In both content and casting, Not One Batu is unique. That uniqueness is one of its greatest asset, as the ensemble and subject matter blend to create an unforgettable evening of theatre.
Honey Girl ( Marie Tredway ) is a meth dealer waiting for her customers in an seaside park. Her Ma ( Lelea'e "Buffy" Kahalepuna-Wong ) drops by one evening to hash out their estrangement and reconnect with her daughter.
Honey's customers include a Marine named Toully ( Tony Rossi ), her Book of Mormon-thumping friend Sherrie ( Gloria Alvarez ), and a jumpy user named Max ( Jae K. Renfrow ). Honey Girl had been a meth user in the past, but recently stopped in order to pass drug tests and regain custody of her child, Junior. She plans to live with her kid and Braddah ( Ian Voltaire Deanes ), as long as Ma does not spoil her plans by bringing the chaos of her own drug use into her daughter's life.
Ii-Epstein is from Hawaii, and creates a complex world of shifting alliances and good-natured ribbing in this drama. As they struggle with the inequities and dissatisfaction of living in paradise, there is never a doubt that the men and women onstage feel legitimate affection for one another.
Slavick gives her ensemble plenty of room to move in the park space. She isolates Tredway in one corner of the park, often facing the water when other characters smoke meth, so the audience understands how she is able to deny how her own drug-dealing is affecting her loved ones. When a fight erupts, Slavick and fight choreographer Jaq Seifert move the action as close to the audience as possible, bringing us into the energy of an unpredictable park brawl.
All the actors ( the ensemble also includes Scott Hanada, Bobby Wilhelmson and Heather Jencks ) do fine work, and they handle the complications of performing in a public space with aplomb. The company rolls with the noise of nearby traffic and conversation, even playing with people on the common-area bike path.
One final note about this production's singularity: It features musical performances by the Aloha Center of Chicago at the start of each show. The joy and pride on display during that section nicely set the stage for the mix of elation and sorrow to come.