Playwright: Simon Stephens. At: Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.steeptheatre.com; $25-$35. Runs through: Aug. 13
The name of the deepest lake in England lends its moniker to Stephens' latest drama, an intriguing trio of deep, interconnected stories weaving together the relationships of eight individuals, at the same hour on the longest evening of the year. The playwright who penned the Tony Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has once again created a riveting evening of theater that delves into the human existence while spinning a web of mystery.
In the first of three separate but linked stories, Frieda bids a sad farewell to Harry, one of several children she's fostered over the years. The young man is leaving his home in Middlesex, England to begin a new life in Canada. In this quiet, but exposition-packed scene, the audience learns a great deal about Harry, his late friend Ian and Frieda's other foster children, all of whose lives have taken different paths. Throughout this scene, Stephens' views on advancing technology, especially the expansion of Heathrow Airport, effects everyone and everything.
At the same moment, in a plush hotel room near Heathrow, two people are embarking on an affair. Mark is a young, married instructor at a local college; Lisa, also married, is somewhat older, and works in law enforcement. However, how these two lonely individuals found each other, the details of their colorful pasts and the eventual destination of this sexual romp makes for a provocative, surprisingly humorous and stealthy story.
Finally, under harsh, flickering florescent lights, Sian mercilessly interrogates well-dressed, middle-aged Jonathan. Initially it's unclear what motivates this violent scene, but the audience eventually discovers the secrets and truths lying beneath. In this taut, tension-filled scene, Sian is a sadistic, impersonal inquisitor, but her exact relationship with Jonathan is vague. Even in its final, nerve-racking moments, Stephens leaves it to theatergoers to decipher what they've just experienced.
Robin Witt's fierce direction is character-driven. She keeps her cast honest, while staging this shadowy drama with an enigmatic mood. Audiences expecting solid answers won't find them here, but Witt cleverly raises the stakes and a number of thought-provoking questions through Stephens' script. Thomas Dixon helps connect these three disparate stories with his deafening sound track of jets taking off and landing, combined with original music. The excellent cast, however, commands this production, led by the terrific Caroline Neff and Peter Moore, as Sian and Jonathan. Nick Horst is genuinely sweet as Mark and Kendra Thulin is both humorous and heart-rending as Lisa.
As Stephens did with his Tony-winning Broadway success, he again explores relationships, loneliness, alienation and family, tempered by the technology's influence on our planet and our lives. Presented with tension and mystery, Steep's U.S. premiere of this exciting new play is worth a dip in its deep waters.