Playwright: Selina Fillinger
At: Sideshow Theatre and Rivendell Ensemble at Victory Gardens Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-871-3000; VictoryGardens.org; $20-$30. Runs through: July 21
My parents divorced after 24 years of marriage. No infidelity, no abuse, no obvious cause other than growing apart. My dad didn't grow apart from my mom ( he was blindsided ) but she grew away from him. She needed to find out how to be her own person.
That's the point of this three-character, 85 minute play although it pretends to be about something else, thereby splitting its focus. Also, its minimal expository information prevents the audience from quickly understanding what's going on.
Charlotte ( Mary Cross ), a middle-aged wife and mother, begins volunteering at a sexual crisis counseling center where the ebullient director, Joey ( Patrick Agada ), helps her break down some personal barriers. Meanwhile, life at home is increasingly tense with hard-working husband, Doug ( Guy Massey ), who's troubled by Charlotte's growing distance and erratic hours. Late nights Charlotte sifts through garbage in back of a university frat house. In tiny fragments we learn that Charlotte and Doug's 20 year old son is in prison for sexual assault linked to the fraternity; but we don't learn specifics nor do we have this info early enough to understand Charlotte's motivations.
What we DO see is a woman who, like my mother, began growing apart from her husband long ago, with widening divides of communication and intimacy. Doug appears gentle, caring if undemonstrative, and trying to understand. He admits he's not good with words, but vows to do anything for Charlotte ... except kiss her knee, which becomes a symbolic point. This is the real play. Once author Selina Fillinger reveals it to uslater rather than soonerit's so self-apparent and true that Charlotte's eccentricities vis-Ã -vis the crisis center and fraternity dumpster ring false. There certainly is an important play to be written about how parents respond to a child who commits a sexual crime, but this isn't that play.
The three actors give lovely, nuanced performances, with Agada in the showiest role ( his character is gay, wouldn't ya' know ). Agada's bright moments notwithstanding, the overall tone under director Lauren Shouse is understated, perhaps responding to the circumscribed nature of the writing. Arnel Sancianco's clever scenic design suggests the flatness of life: a neutral colored backdrop with oversized but mundane household objects embossed on it, ably lit by Diane D. Fairchild.
Many plays deal with couples drifting/growing apart, often without a specific crisis. Sarah Ruhl's The Vibrator Play comes to mind. Indeed, Ruhl's play ends as Something Clean ends, with the couple tentatively making a new start. But the son's crisis in Something Clean is an excuse, not a reason, and is unnecessary therefore. Charlotte and Doug would have reached the tipping point sooner or later, as I have observed firsthand.