Playwright: Robert Tenges. At: the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. Tickets: 773-340-0140; www.thesideproject.net; $20, $15 for seniors/students. Runs through: April 21
The pageantry of a mother-son relationship unfolds in Robert Teneges' world-premiere drama Elsewhere for the side project. It's a subtle staging of the hormonal angst of high school, and the compassionate adults who have to relive it from the other side.
Set in 1969 Chicago, Vietnam War widow Monica (baby-faced Shawna Tucker) and her volatile son, Adam (Charles Askenaizer), are torn apart by the new women in their lives. Monica's new church friend, Bonnie (Lucinda Johnston), is involved in the sale of religious kitsch, while Adam's new love, Dana (Amanda Lipinski), is involved in the navigation of social cliques.
In a particularly poignant and well-acted scene, Adam and Dana (played perfectly for laughs and tears by Lipinski) assemble their clarinet and saxophone while defining their relationship. As their instruments take shape, the young lovers size up each other's biological instruments and suck on their reeds like thumbs. Adult desire and adolescent understanding collide in the inevitable train wreck that comes with being a teenager.
Meanwhile, Monica navigates the same wreckage as she begins to re-discover friendship and love after her husband's deathmuch to her son's embarrassment. The cast is rounded out by a well-intentioned guidance counselor (Andy Hager) and a sleazy, yet sincere, salesman (Don Hall). A real value of the play Elsewhere is the nuance given to each of the supporting rolesthe characters don't solely exist to shine light on the central mother-son dynamic, but to share their own grief, heartache, and musings on hope.
Originally workshopped by the New Group in New York, Elsewhere feels at home at the side project, a tiny 28-seat theater east of the Jarvis Red Line stop. In their third collaboration together, artistic director Adam Webster and Chicago playwright Robert Tenges create a mundane, yet profound, series of mostly two-person scenes that rotate mostly clockwise about the stage. Both Webster and Tenges have learned what resonates in the intimate space: subtle, realistic staging, language and emotion.
Elsewhere also features a dramaturgical poster outside the theatre chronicling a timeline of the "mothers of Vietnam" who were born during the Great Depression, came of age during WWII and matured during the conflict in Vietnam. While this context strengthens our sympathies for Monica, the play evenly focuses on mother and son: the timelessness of that dynamic and the similarities between child and adult. Tenges suggests our teenage angst never dies; it grows up and changes its name to passion, depression or elsewhere in between.