The Safe House, a world premiere play commissioned by and currently in production at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago, through December 16, 2018, is the inspired work of Chicago-based playwright, actor and director Kristine Thatcher.
Directed by Terry McCabe, the cast includes marrssie Mencotti in a splendid performance as grandmother Hannah, entering a dangerous stage of short-term memory loss; Paul Chakrin in a a finely nuanced delivery as her extremely concerned son Matt, who is seeking a solution in a care home; and Kat Evans as their on-edge granddaughter/niece Bridget, reeling from her own personal crises as her second marriage- to an abuser like her dad- falls apart just as she is realizing her career as an actress is also failing.
The play packs a lot of pathos and personality into 80 minutes. It’s very well written, with the type of developed personality depiction, convincing dialogue, and heart-wrenching interactions that could only be written by somebody who has been there and suffered with a loved one. The scenes where each character reveals his/her personal family memories are the most poignant.
All of us will wither and perish, and most of us will suffer issues of cognitive decay-if not actual dementia or Alzheimer’s disease- before the end, but these statistics do nothing to make the process of living with loss any easier. The essential beauty at the heart of this play is its examination of the problem from all 3 perspectives.
Hannah is unbearably gallant, very much aware that her son (and his unseen brother) want to dispossess her of her home and the memories it holds, and still very much the person she always was- loving, tough, filled with determination.
Matt is far more fully developed than his silly jokes and initial offhand manner may make him seem; he is and has been THERE for his mother, and is surprisingly able to accept possible other solutions for her future.
Bridget is at first shocked by the idea that stalwart grandma’s sons may be plotting against her, then shocked again as she perceives Hannah may be further advanced in illness than meets the eye.
As the action advances, angry outbursts and brash confrontations are replaced by a growing acknowledgment- by all 3- that- assumptions and future plans must give way to forces beyond our control, and if we look closely, we may find joy and support beyond our expectations.
The play is highly recommended, gently humorous, and cannily stagecrafted by Ray Toler, carefully lit by Eric Watkins, casually costumed by LaVisa Angela Williams. We are invited into the warm, welcoming and very realistic rendering of Hannah’s home in Lansing, Michigan in 1982; it is any and every home of a beloved relative that we cherish and always want to be able to visit. We all hope to find the same person who nurtured us in these safe places, and we will all ultimately be called upon to keep those beloved safe, and to transform someday into their predicaments. Would that we all have family like Ms. Thatcher to help us make the bittersweet transitions of life.
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough hew them how he will”. Hamlet to Horatio
For information and tickets to all the fine plays at City Lit Theater, go to www.citylit.org
All photos by Steve Graue