Playwright: Kathleen Akerley. At: Sideshow Theatre Company at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Phone: 773-975-8150; $20. Runs through: Oct. 3
Once upon a time, there was a woman who, literally, put her life on hold. Our play's heroine, after a long-buried trauma occurring in 1917, has not aged a single day, retaining her girlish appearance despite being now 63 years old. Weary of this chronological inertia, she arrives in a remote French villageaccompanied by a middle-aged companion, assumed to be her mother, but who is, in fact, her daughterseeking the consultation of a physician renowned for his success with such maladies. Her doctor has arranged accommodations for the ladies at a guest house, where the other lodgers include a young Tom Stoppard, an elderly Tennessee Williams, an incognito American and a reclusive anthropologist giving his name as "Mr. Asher". These gentlemen display interest in the pretty invalid to varying degrees, but it is the enigmatic scholar who beguiles the insomniac patient with heliocentric myths.
It's an allegory, you see. And if you know anything about this medieval literary genre, you will quickly guess the identity of the mysterious raconteur ( though a casual remark regarding the number of rooms available to transients offers a clue ) . But the enjoyment to be found in Kathleen Akerley's contemplative play does not lie in tracking the course of its plotwhich dissolves into the ozone during its final moments, anywaybut in savoring its rarefied atmosphere, flavored with just enough humor to prevent the air from becoming excessively thin.
Sustaining an appropriately metaphysical tone without descending into somnolenceor worse, sentimentalityis always difficult for youthful actors bursting with robust energy. But Sideshow Theatre Company co-directors Jonathan L. Green and Megan A. Smith have integrated their production's various elements to present a unified picture of cerebral romanticism throughout its two-hour playing time.
Christopher M. LaPorte's baroque incidental music, Katie Spelman's dainty choreography, Jordan Kardasz's translucent lighting of Eric Luchen's Turneresque scenery together invoke spectacle reflecting their universe's mood, easing slightly the labors of a cast featuring Scottie Caldwell as the forlorn damsel surrounded by her assemblage of protectorsamong them, Matt Fletcher's brainy Stoppard, Michael Mercier's chivalrous playboy, Susie Griffith's loyal caregiver, Andrew Marikis' doting innkeeper, and Andy Luther's engagingly blasé Williams. Never has the specter of impending death met more formidable opposition than in this midwest premiere production.