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DOUBLE REVIEW Winter, The Tall Girls
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2017-01-25

This article shared 479 times since Wed Jan 25, 2017
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Winter

Playwright: Julie Jensen. At: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Ave.. Tickets: 773-334-7728 or RivendellTheatre.org; $38. Runs through: Feb. 11

The Tall Girls

Playwright: Meg Miroshnik. At: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Tickets: 773-975-8150 or ShatteredGlobe.org; $35. Runs through: Feb. 25

Women desperately trying to get out of increasingly trapped situations feature in two new-to-Chicago plays. Utah-based lesbian playwright Julie Jensen focuses on a retired English professor horrified at her increasing signs of dementia in the 2016 drama Winter, while Meg Miroshnik's 2014 play The Tall Girls features young women who see basketball as a potential escape from their Depression-era town.

Jensen previously explored dementia in her semi-autobiographical 1997 drama Last Lists of My Mad Mother, which was told from a caretaker perspective. Winter is centered on the mentally fraying matriarch Annis ( Barbara E. Robertson ), who is taking decisive and divisive steps toward suicide.

Winter is clearly an issue-driven drama on dying with dignity. Yet Jensen weighs her views heavily against opposing arguments via the well-off son Roddy ( Sean Cooper ). Jensen also ratchets up the time limitations to increase tension, but this tactic doesn't feel entirely earned.

Despite these script issues, Winter provides a fine framework for gushingly emotional performances that ring true in co-directors Megan Carney and Mark Ulrich's sturdy Rivendell Theatre Ensemble production. Robertson gives a very showy and honest performance full of desperation. She's supported well by Dan Flannery as reluctant husband Robeck, Martasia Jones as hipster granddaughter LD and Steve Haggard as wayward son Evan.

Miroshnik's The Tall Girls is a great and gripping team ensemble piece delineating the many dilemmas facing its teenage heroines. Vitally, they all find comradery and potential escapes to better lives by playing basketball. But there's also simmering attractions underneath between two players, and with the town's new coach, Haunt Johnny ( Joseph Weins ).

The scrappy Almeda ( Tracey Green ) has the biggest dream to play for women's basketball pioneer Babe Didrikson Zaharias. But Almeda must contend with her recently arrived caretaker cousin, Jean ( Angie Shriner ), who had a far better head for team play.

Christina Gorman and Abbey Smith are hilarious, respectively, as the lanky wannabe glamour girl Lurlene and the nervously prim "Puppy." Also great is Tina Munoz Pandya as the well-grounded Inez.

Director Louis Contey has rounded up a wonderful ensemble to do great dramatic justice to The Tall Girls for Shattered Globe Theatre. Contey's production team also skillfully conjure up the dustbowl era via Amanda Rozmiarek's ghostly unit set design and Sarah Jo White's period costumes.

Despite its richly drawn characters and sharp historical context, The Tall Girls does not deliver much of a happy ending. But least some audiences should be pleased at all the progress that has been made through the decades for women's sports.


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