Playwright: Mia McCullough. At: Stage Left Theatre, 3408. Phone: 773-883-8830; $20-$25. Runs through: Nov. 3
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
A down-on-her-luck female of marginally pleasant appearance, sooner or later, will run across a brand of male known as a 'rescuer.' White-bread Brad is one of these, crossing paths on the subway with a barely-postadolescent mother of two on the run from an abusive husband. Before going claustrophobic and asking him to soothe her, the distressed damsel reveals that she lives in a women's shelter. Following this brief encounter, Brad makes this waif's rehabilitation his personal project, until his wife, Claire, announces that she is pregnant.
This scenario could be played as a Boulevard comedy, Brad and Claire ultimately reaffirming their allegiance to one another after their brush with social-services bureaucracy and wacky street culture. ( Moral: Stay in your own yard. ) Or it coulbe be a Big Chill polemic, Brad's sudden compassion fueled by the erosion of his youthful ideals to greedhead expedience. ( Moral: Do your good deeds while you're young and unencumbered. ) And there's always melodrama à la Blue Angel, the naive hero joining the very world he so deplores. ( Moral: Every crutch will eventually find a cripple, and vice versa. )
Neither playwright Mia McCullough nor director Ann Filmer seems to have made up their minds which play this one is, however. The author's firsthand experience working at a domestic-violence crisis line forestalls a contrived happy ending, but also fosters an annoying ambivalence. Our vagabond is such a pastiche of the needy underclass that we begin to suspect her generic accounts of thwarted progress. Claire's secrets regarding the procreative issues aggravating her spouse's marital malaise reflect an unselfishness utterly at odds with her previous presentation as a bossy, shallow, materialistic, insecure yuppie shrew. And is Brad truly motivated by charitable impulse, or is this mere white-collar boredom?
For this Stage Left production, Kevin Heckman, Cat Dean and Victoria Caciopoli dutifully go wherever their plot leads, but only Angelique Westerfield as the shelter's night concierge and Susaan Jamshidi as an assortment of auxiliary professionals come off as voices of reason—possibly because their roles only require them to adopt one personality at a time. In the end, McCullough raises many questions, but offers nary a suggestion of solutions to even the simple problems: Take Brad's wanting to stay in their trendy multi-ethnic urban neighborhood, while Claire demands that they raise their offspring in a gated suburban cocoon—couldn't they at least consider a compromise relocation, maybe Evanston or Park Ridge?