Playwright: Simon Stephens. At: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn. Phone: 866-811-4111; $18. Runs through: March 28
When Americans run away from home, they usually keep running for awhilecrossing several state lines, at least. But the English working housewife who is the heroine of Simon Stephens' road play makes her escape a mere 150-odd miles from her home ( northwestern London to south Manchester, not much more of a trip than from Chicago to Milwaukee ) . She makes no attempt to conceal her identityindeed, her eagerness to share her life with strangers is her most noticeable characteristic. The crucial factor is that no one, not even her husband and child, know where she is, or when she will returnif she returns.
Mrs. Harper Regan's flight begins with the news that her father is dying and that her boss, after editorializing about the condition of the economy and the world in general, refuses to give her a day off to visit her ailing sire. And if she loses her job, how will she and her presently unemployed spouse finance their daughter's education at Oxford University? Nevertheless, when someone casually suggests that she just get up and go, she heeds the advice, discovering in her three-day exile the courage to pursue experimental interactions outside her prescribed social roles, ranging from a quickie hotel-room shag arranged from an Internet café, to a confrontation with her estranged mother, where revelations both disturbing and comforting await her.
And we are right behind her every step of the way, urging "You go, girl," even when she grinds a glass into a barroom rude-boy's face and then calmly exits wearing his leather jacket. The superb ensemble work that comprises Steep Theatre's stock-in-trade is exhibited to full advantage under Robin Witt's carefully-detailed direction of this United States premiere production, with Kendra Thulin making the drab matron's journey of discovery one of a middle-aged, middle-class Alice roving amid a wonderland of diverse citizenry replicated in all their uncaricatured ambiguity by actors displaying Eva Brenneman's pitch-perfect accents.
Travel, no matter the distance, cannot help but broaden the horizons of both the traveler and those witnessing the enlightenment-in-progress. We are not told precisely how Harper's abbreviated odyssey will affect her relationships with her family and neighbors, but so inexorably do we become immersed into Stephens' microcosmic universe that our certainty ( hope? ) that some change has been initiated equals our happiness over another fellow wayfarer's deliverance from the prison of their own self-imposed inertia.