By: C.A. Johnson
At: Strawdog Theatre Company, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. Tickets: 773-644-1380or strawdog.com; $26-$35
Runs through: Feb. 15
It's sad that Strawdog Theatre Company is being forced out from another of its performance spaces due to redevelopment plans. But a least they're leaving their venue with a dramatic bang with the mostly gripping Midwest premiere of C.A. Johnson's Thirst.
Thirst is technically a post-apocalyptic drama. Its starting premise is that environmental disasters have caused American society to collapse.
But the cataclysmic fallout is really more of a setup for Thirst to explore an intensely personal drama about a failed relationship. As the play unfolds, you get insight to former spouses living on the edge who have had vastly different reactions to grief and survival.
Thirst begins as if a memory play with the adopted child Kalil ( Saniyah As-Salaam ) recollecting past horrors. Then we meet Kalil's adoptive same-sex parents, Samira ( Tracie Taylor ) and Greta ( Laura Resigner ).
The drama kicks off when Kalil is refused access to water, which is controlled by an African-American militia that is on the verge of declaring a hard-won "peace." Samaria's ( ex? ) husband, Terrance ( Gregory J. Fields ), controls the militia, and it becomes apparent to all that he is withholding resources as a way to force some kind of marital resolution.
With Thirst, Johnson presents a truly disturbing future predicting groups dividing further along racial lines. So the fact that Samira and Greta are in an interracial lesbian relationship causes much friction within Terrance's leadership circle, which includes the volatile Coolie ( Tamarus Harvell ) and the more practical Bankhead ( Johnard Washington ).
Director Andrea J. Dymond's production keeps up the mystery built into Johnson's smart script. Dymond's decision to stage Thirst in the round helps the drama, as does the soldi production work of set designer Evan Frank, costumer Jos N. Banks and lighting designer Adrienne Miikelle.
My only issue is that some of the performances sometimes don't rise to the emotional extremes of Johnson's script. Thirst contains harrowing life-or-death situations and many remorseful recollections of dying family members.
Perhaps Drymond has steered the cast to have restrained reactions as if a defense mechanism. After all, these world-weary characters have already experienced so much horror and hurt in their lives.
But there are moments that could have been even more heart-wrenching if some performers had fully tapped into their emotions. Instead, there's more of a detachment that doesn't fully satisfy.
As a pessimistic portend of environmental trauma and contentious survivalists waging war, Thirst fulfills its promise of being a worrying dystopian drama. But Thirst also grips as a deeply personal look into a relationship that broke down amid bleak circumstances.