Playwright: Caitlin Montanye Parrish. At: Route 66 Theatre Company at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport. Phone: 773-325-1700; $38.50-$44.50. Runs through: June 5
The road linking Chicago and Los Angeles in the annals of American show business now boasts traffic both coming and going. Caitlin Montanye Parrish came from the balmy waters off the coast of northern Florida to the snows of Chicago and left them for the arid California desert, where she met fellow Windy City immigrant Stef Tovar, founder of the aptly-named Route 66 Theatre Company. But the source of their homesickness was not the absent roar of elevated trains or the scarcity of hearty foodit was the memory of our lakefront, and the long, chilly, so-romantic-it-hurts walks passed in solitary contemplation.
The characters in Parrish's play have plenty to contemplate: Richard Brennan's death in an untimely automobile accident the previous year has left high school teacher Noah Calder the sole guardian of their adopted teenage daughter. But now 17-year-old Jira Calder Brennan yearns to find her birth mother, while 39-year-old Noah is increasingly drawn to a would-be suitor, the younger, but intriguingly mature, Liam Piro. "I want more family!" Jira laments. "I want more family, too" confesses Noah as he looks for comfort to his city's turbulent history of destruction and resurrection.
In less careful hands, Parrish's poignant confrontations and lyrical dialogue could have washed away in a flood of soapsuds, but Erica Weiss' direction highlights the intelligence anchoring this exploration of family dynamics unimaginable not so many years ago. So do Stephen H. Carmody, Sean Mallary, Lindsay Jones and John Boesche, whose technical design evokes in palpable detail the pensive wintry-grey atmosphere from whence come reminders of spring's rebirth.
Stef Tovar is well-versed at playing all-American middle-aged Nice Guys, acquitting himself capably as the grieving Noah ( who wasn't allowed to say goodbye to his husband ) . Alex Hugh Brown lends Liam a refreshing candor, as does Lili-Anne Brown as the fairy godmama bred of orphans' fantasies, both of whom suffer misleading introductions before transcending clichÃ© to become plausible and individualized personalities. What focuses our sympathies, however, is Falashay Pearson's performance as the lonely Jira, whom you want to sweep up in your armsor at least offer your scarfalong with assurances that everything will get better. Really.