Playwright: Kristine Thatcher
At: City Lit Theatre at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: CityLit.org; $32. Runs through: Dec. 16
There's this house, you seea modest mid-20th-century family-sized dwelling in Lansing, Michigan. The ambience is a study in Norman Rockwell warmth and tranquility, with a laundry room in the basement, a garden by the kitchen door and a grandmother who grows vegetables that she cooks into hearty stews ( recipe in the playbill ).
To be sure, grandma Hannah has been experiencing occasional lapses of memory, but refuses the advice of her son Mathius, who wants her to relocate to a "retirement center" so he can sell the property to pay his brother and sister-in-law's medical bills. Complicating matters further is the recent return of Hannah's granddaughter/Mathius' niece Bridget, an aspiring artist and soon-to-be divorcee who champions Hannah's wish to remain independent, even it means taking a temporary hiatus from her career.
The reluctance of the old to make way for the young has been a theme in literature since antiquity, but don't be lulled into complacency by a premise nowadays undergoing a revival, spurred by the aging of the boom-generation population. So absorbing is the smartly articulated conflict between the intractable Hannah and the overprotective Mathius that not until late in the story do we consider the motive behind Bridget's craving for the sanctuary offered by childhood refuges and nurturing elders.
A play progressing in linear real-time, its exposition integrated deftly into dialogue uttered by characters of uniform Northern European-ancestry who eventually arrive at a satisfactory resolution to their problems, may seem quaint in an age when fourth wall-breaking monologues and mosaic narratives gobble up the big awards. Chicago playwright Kristine Thatcher knows her audiences too well, however, to discount the value of a "well-made" playespecially when constructed around a showcase role for a female actor of, um, advanced years.
Doing the honors in this world premiere production at City Lit is the always-captivating marssie Mencotti as the formidable Hannah ( whose charms encompass a backstory of immigrant survival and an impromptu song-and-dance just prior to intermission ). She is flanked by Paul Chakrin and Kat Evans as the kin whose selfless resilience is the factor elevating Ray Toler's cozy Midwestern hearth above simple nostalgic scenic design into the kind of home we wish had been ours.