Saturday, November 7, 2015

Janus Theatre's "King of Shadows"

When you see Janus Theatre Company's Chicago-area premiere of "King of Shadows" at the Elgin Art Showcase this month, you don't have to answer whether you believe in a place of darkness whose forces are trying to break through to our world, but you will be asked that question — asked by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's tightly wound script and an excellent cast. The two-act, two-hour play is a perfect pick for this company named after the god of transitions.

The story revolves around Nihar, a runaway whose back story combines graphic accounts of abuse and vivid descriptions of a shadowy netherworld, ruled by a king and queen determined to snatch him back. When he seeks help from Jessica, a graduate student in social work, her world soon becomes darkened by stormy relationships and the fog of doubt.

Christopher Sylvie, Melody Jefferies, Jaime Patriarca and Joe Cattoggio in
Janus Theatre Company's production of "King of Shadows."

Jaime Patriarca (as Jessica) layers her character with veneers of scholar, girlfriend, and big sister but these do not conceal Jessica's tendency to see the people around her as objects for study and documentation rather than personal connections. Patriarca's overthinking social worker who is reluctant to actually touch people creates a delicious contradiction.

Joe Cattoggio plays Eric, Jessica's live-in boyfriend who confesses he became a cop in order to conquer his own inner darkness. Cattoggio shows us Eric's mixed feelings about the job during scenes of bravado foiled by faraway looks of uncertainty, the body language of compromise, and putting his uniform on and taking it off.

Little sister Sarah, brought to life by Melody Jefferies, is a restless, sexually ambivalent teen who is constantly out of place — the wrong city, the wrong street, the wrong room, or the wrong time. Sarah's preoccupation with a tragic past, alternative realities, dreams and the spirit world is brilliantly captured in the breath control of Jefferies' colorful delivery.

Christopher Sylvie is the mysterious teen Nihar, who trades sex in the San Francisco streets by day and hides in buildings at night. Despite all the damage done in his short life, Nihar is the most sure of himself, and Sylvie's forceful and unblinking portrayal persuade us that "facts" cannot always be trusted, and the truth is whatever you're willing to believe.

Like a conflict of worlds, or competition of darkness and light, scenes develop rapidly in "King of Shadows" as characters exchange positions of power through arguing, bargaining, accusing and acquiescing. Well directed movement gives shape to dialogue-heavy scenes that are sometimes too quick to escalate, and poetic monologues and excellent lighting effects provide welcome relief from the constant dramatic tension. 

Don't see "King of Shadows" if you expect to troll social media between laughs and leave with a happy ending. But if you want an intimate theater experience, with superb production and great acting, see if this play doesn't convince you that we are all orphans, trying to escape the fears and self-doubt that rule over us.

Weekend performances of "King of Shadows" directed by Sean Hargadon run November 6-22 at the Elgin Art Showcase.  For more information and tickets, go to

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