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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Utility
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-04-12

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Playwright: Emily Schwend

At: Interrobang Theatre Project at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. Tickets: InterrobangTheatre.org or 312-219-4140; $32. Runs through: May 4

Literary scholars can speak of the narrative device labeled "a dark night of the soul" but the darkness surrounding our heroine on this sweltering East Texas evening in a house still recovering from flood damage is the result, in whole or in part, of her chronically irresponsible husband neglecting to pay the minimum due on their electric bill—an oversight disabling the air-conditioning and reducing their 8-year-old daughter's birthday party to a back-yard romp with balloons and a hastily repaired Walmart cake, instead of the promised movie.

What distinguishes the lady of this barely functioning house from the suffering matrons of classic dramas ( e.g., Ibsen's Nora, whose domestic servitude includes a lavish shopping allowance and a staff of servants ) is that our working mother's numerous filial duties keep her too preoccupied to contemplate alternatives—say, the company of her brother-in-law, whose quiet gallantry hints at roads not taken—to the weariness engendered by her mother's constant criticism, her husband's casual infidelities and her children's thoughtless rebukes.

What also distinguishes the silent despair of Emily Schwend's hardscrabble gulf-coast survivors is that, unlike other proletariat demographics showcased by North American playwrights seeking to redress decades of public indifference, is the absence of artificial crisis and resolution presented by realistic portrayals of the scrimping-to-just-get-by kind of poverty.

Louisiana-born director Georgette Verdin, however, does not flinch from Schwend's examination of inert misery, nor does she allow us to do so. Brynne Barnard as the stoical matriarch and a trio of supporting actors assembled for Interrobang's midwest premiere inhabit their personae with unconditional compassion and not a hint of condescension, while the technical team of Kerry Chipman, Adam Borchers, Michelle E. Benda and Erik Siegling immerse us in a full-service kitchen where the chirping of crickets outside the window or the hum of a refrigerator switching on after a power failure can prompt relief commensurate with an angel choir, along with, perhaps, the courage to face another day.


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