Playwright: Samuel D. Hunter
At: LiveWire Chicago Theatre at
the Storefront, 66 E. Randolph St.
Runs through: May 5
The whole Nestor family is home for Christmas, but that's because the funeral of Martin, the clan patriarch, is scheduled for boxing day. Photojournalist Bo has flown in from Tel Aviv, and his sister, Ally, has taken time off from her transport business to drive over. They arrive to discover that their mother has painted the entire inside of the house a monochrome white and is occupied in consuming her late spouse's supply of whiskey. After the siblings engage in their customary squabbles, she reveals the circumstances of their father's death and her own plans for the immediate future.
Life in 21st-century America is scary everywhere, but what makes it even scarier in the tiny Idaho communities where Samuel D. Hunter likes to set his plays is that life is also irrevocably bleak. Oh, the Gem state may boast an urbanized capital and a major university, but as represented by Hunter, the big-sky country is a barren frontier whose climate and economy inspire a free-floating paranoia exacerbated by the enervation of isolation. Escape from this existential void made manifest can be macrocosmic, like Bo's crusade on behalf of global unity, or microcosmic, like Ally's obsession with providing for her lesbian partner and young stepdaughter (her protective impulse extending to the construction of a bunker in anticipation of the apocalypse). For their parents, however, the end of days has already come, prompting them to exit quietly of their own will.
Suicide is hardly shocking in Western Dramawhere would classical tragedy be without it?but as the baby-boom generation approaches its sunset years, an increasing number of authors are inviting discussion of the control that an individual is permitted to exercise over their acknowledgment of the inevitable. Is it irrational to choose the moment and/or means of shuffling off your mortal coil when you deem the occasion appropriate, or must the decision be deferred to other agents?
Unlike his later play, The Whale (opening at Victory Gardens on April 15), the dialogue engendered by Hunter's eccentric premise remains secular, with no mention of the theological ramifications of stealing a jump on the Grim Reaper. Director Joshua Aaron Weinstein and an ensemble of actors so closely attuned to one another that they actually seem the product of a single household likewise refuse to wallow in bathos or condescension, but instead present their arguments with an articulate dignity that commands our respect, if not our unmitigated approval.