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THEATER REVIEW Sundown, Yellow Moon
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-10-16

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Playwright: Rachel Bonds; songs by The Bengsons

At: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-338-2177; RavenTheatre.com; $43-$46. Runs through: Nov. 17

Some online research confirmed that this play was autobiographical, at least in general if not in specific details. In a work inspired by one's own life, either the characters inherently need to be interesting or the writer must make them interesting. Rachel Bonds doesn't do either in Sundown, Yellow Moon, at least not for me.

I reacted similarly when I saw Bonds' Five Mile Lake in early 2018 at Shattered Globe Theatre, directed by Cody Estle as is this one. That play, eventually, engaged me in Chekhovian fashion. Chekhov, the Russian titan of modern drama, created rather ordinary characters—peasants, artists, landowners, unrequited lovers, doctors—doing seemingly ordinary things which gather critical mass until, by the end, lives are changed forever. This play doesn't achieve the same effect.

Young adult twin sisters Ray ( Liz Chidester ) and Joey ( Diana Coates )—cast against physical similarity—visit their small Tennessee hometown in steamy July, concerned about divorced Dad, Tom ( towering Will Casey ). A veteran private schoolteacher, Tom recently argued violently with the new Headmaster and accidentally cold-cocked the headmaster's wife. Swearing like a sailor, Tom's salty remarks provide most of the play's humor, but I wouldn't want him teaching MY kids!

Overachieving Joey is headed to Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship and Ray is a musician, we're told several times. She's lesbian, too, although it makes no difference to anything, so why bother. Ditto, her being a musician: she frequently dangles a guitar but doesn't play or sing a note until the closing minutes. This dreadful tease is counter-intuitive writing. Doesn't Bonds know she's creating unfulfilled expectations?

Late each night Joey swims in the local reservoir, where she meets struggling poet Ted, married to a successful writer. Do they become lovers? Bonds provides no specifics, but when Ted ( Josh Odor ) breaks it off, Joey injures herself, although Bonds again leaves out specifics. Ray, too, acquires a sounding board, Carver ( Jordan Dell Harris ), appointed caretaker for Tom and an erstwhile musician Ray remembers from school. Carver's past involved a scandal ( again no specifics ) with a priest.

Constructed mostly of unrelated two character scenes and sorely lacking exposition ( Chekhov supplied exposition in spades ), the play never forms a discernible whole or makes the characters compelling. The songs are a ruse of sorts. One complete song midway in the play and another at the end are add-ons having nothing to do with the plot. In between, only song fragments are heard. The one song pertinent to story and character is sung by Ray ( finally ) and Carver immediately before the end. Theater songs need to have uses and most of these don't.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec's abstracted dense forest scenery is effective, as is Becca Jeffords' moody lighting.


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