Saturday, October 27, 2018

Janus Theatre's "Sunday On the Rocks" is a Happy Hour (or two)

Being honest is a virtue. But the trouble with being totally honest is that in the process, we expose all of our vices, weaknesses and inconsistencies. That's just one paradox you could discover in Sunday On the Rocks, a 1994 play by Theresa Rebeck which opened Friday at the Elgin Art Showcase.

Women are "behaving badly" on a Sunday morning in this story which develops characters as witty, funny and charmingly flawed as we all imagine ourselves to be. With plenty of truth serum flowing,  the play addresses morality without becoming a morality play.

The all-female cast delivers lines like "I don't want to see any men today," yet all the Freudian projections, biological imperatives and emotional ambivalence are more than just feminist subject matter. They show how the female experience is an authentic part of all human experience.

The ensemble made it look easy to differentiate these four complex but highly relatable single women. A shot of real whisky might have calmed the nerves that hurried the opening scene, but as the two-hour story unfolded, the stage chemistry was as pure as single malt scotch.

Great direction by Tara Morrison kept the actors playing fluidly to a 360 degree audience, which is a perfect fit for Janus Theatre's intimate staging style. An excellent set, costumes and props were maneuvered with skill and subtlety by the talented cast.

Day drinking isn't really the issue in this piece. It's just a device that produces carefully crafted lines like "She doesn't even see the dirt" (Jessica) and "I think we're capable of anything" (Gayle). Near the end, Elly roars at holier-than-thou Jessica, "You are just as bad as us!"

Seeking equality among people is also a virtue. But isn't the trouble with seeking equality that it drives all of us toward the lowest standard? See what you think when Sunday On the Rocks returns to the stage now through November 4th. For tickets and a complete schedule, go to

Monday, October 15, 2018

Janus Theatre Co presents Marsha Norman's "'Night Mother"

All the pain of misunderstanding is summed up in a daughter's last words, "'Night Mother," the title of a Pulitzer prize-winning 1983 play by Marsha Norman. Produced by Janus Theatre Company, the show opened Friday night at the Elgin Art Showcase, the first of a series titled "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project."

In one eighty-minute scene, a lifetime of personal baggage is unpacked by a mother and daughter over cigarettes and hot cocoa. Leah Soderstrom plays Jesse Cates, an estranged wife who has given up on life, and Maureen Morley plays her anxious mother Thelma. After a tense conversation preoccupied with the minutiae of interpersonal communication, their mundane routine will come to an abrupt end.

With a set made of elements borrowed from somewhere in small town America, sometime in the twentieth century, the actors play to a 360 degree audience in a style practiced by Margo Jones, the regional theatre pioneer and namesake of this month-long series of plays written by women. Excellent direction by Lori Holm places the characters just a few feet from the audience, in Janus' trademark "up close" approach to live theatre.

Maureen Morley (left) and Leah Soderstrom in 'Night Mother.
Soderstrom plays a clear-thinking but nihilistic Jesse, easily switching from perfunctory home management recitations to moments of confession or frustration. Morley is brilliantly casted as her mother Thelma, whose unresolved issues are skillfully telegraphed through tone and body language.

The patter of dialog was rushed at times but the stage chemistry was excellent, and the intimacy of the seating layout revealed incredibly detailed acting within each character's personal space.
'Night Mother returns to the Elgin Art Showcase October 21st and 27th. Also playing this month are Circle Mirror Transformation and Sunday on the Rocks on select dates though November 4th. For tickets, times and more information go to