review: lady

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[originally published: http://www.aislesay.com/CHI-LADY.html]

LADY

by Craig Wright
Directed by BJ Jones
Featuring Lance Stuart Baker, Paul Sparks,
and Michael Shannon
Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie / (847) 673-6300
www.northlight.org
Through February 25, 2007

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
February 18, 2007

Craig Wright has written and BJ Jones has staged a resonant play about three men with guns, divergent lives, politics, a wandering dog, and lakeside dunes. We could ponder modern plays set in sand (Beckett‘s “Happy Days” anyone?) but are soon disabused of any pretense to modernist verbal parsimony. This is a story that plays as if written yesterday, including contemporary cultural and political events (including vice presidential mis-firing misadventures). And we are gradually introduced to our three charming local characters Kenny, Dyson, and Graham. Our journey with this tautly crafted, articulate play is whether our characters are , in the sage words of one of the characters in the play’s final moments “lost together or lost apart.” An artful enterprise and a charming theatrical experience.

Dyson (Paul Sparks) and Kenny (Michael Shannon) occupy the stage first, establishing an uneasy equilibrium. Kenny, good old boy with his good old dog Lady, who is the object of wandering concern for much of the play, states the cry of middle-aged good time seekers everywhere, weekend warriors, with the yen for fun still in ’em: “We get one weekend a year to be the Sultans again” and “Let’s try to have fun for one morning, the one morning we have left in the world.” The situation of their duck hunting vacation is set realistically, stated apocalyptically. We’re not meant to think of these men as solo voyagers in the world, but the metaphor could work well. These are at root three men who knew each other once quite well and have developed distinct lives, taken out of those lives for a few days on an annual reunion. We know the outlines of this story.

Kenny is the true blue owner of Lady; Dyson is a philandering smart aleck who doesn’t really like dogs; and Graham (Lance Stuart Baker), our political success, is finally revealing his true, conservative, political stripes. The three engage in gentle ribbing and comfortable banter covering light and very serious topics, from marital infidelities (Dyson) to a wife with cancer (Kenny) to a political vote for war (Graham). Kenny has a movie mania and frequently references the movies he has seen, e.g. “Apocalypse Now” and “Deerhunter” (setting us up for seeing this interaction as apocalyptic and perhaps lethal). When Kenny then mentions “Roman Holiday” (romantic comedy, Audrey Hepburn’s first movie), we are kept guessing. This provides a good laugh line and prevents us from pigeonholing this character: who IS this guy? Graham, now in elected national office (assisted through Dyson’s strategic effort and Kenny’s financial support by his two buddies) and has become a supporter of the Iraq war and of Bush and Cheney. Dyson takes Graham on about this political shift: “thousands of kids get sent off to die” with this decision to support the war. Kenny reminds Dyson and informs us that Dyson was the one “who told him to run as a Democrat on a Republican platform”. And it’s Dyson who has the biggest problem with Graham’s change of heart. Kenny sees it for what it is; Dyson takes it personally (in part because he has a very personal connection to the ramifications of Graham’s political actions … his son wants to sign up to serve).

In the beginning of the second scene (this is played with no intermission), an event occurs involving the dog Lady. The balance of the play involves assigning blame for that individual action with an individual gun on a particular dune on the shores of Lake Michigan, and assigning responsibility for personal and political actions in the rest of the characters’ lives. Dyson persists, understandably, in focusing his son’s decision to enlist, and the reason for that. He notes about his son’s ‘responsibility”: “18 in America is not a grown man – its you’re really good at play station and you like to fuck.” Dyson’s son Duncan is off to war, and the men debate and reveal reasons for this. Is the son embarrassed b y his father Dyson’s infidelities (other characters reveal that the son has talked to them about these while Dyson had been unaware that his son knew about them) or does the son really agree with the politics, Graham’s politics, that have brought about the war? And what really happened with Kenny’s dog?

“Why not give another life a try?” Graham says to Dyson at one point. In other words, let’s try being responsible and true to your family and your spouse. Dyson notes: “Let’s be men and just say that its fun to kill things” and “you sell your bloodlust like it’s a virtue”. Dyson (who we learn is a teacher) reflects surprisingly poetically that after 9-11 “a hole opened up in the universe where the towers used to be”. Later, he makes a sudden and violent verbal aside to Kenny at one point that cuts the audience to the quick. This explosion is a combination of what everyone has been thinking about Kenny’s conversational contributions to this point (almost always non sequiturs) and shock at the intensity with which the character says this and the simplicity of the words and the clear cutting anger and absolute certainty they reflect about how Dyson sees the world and sees Kenny. What is true is that Kenny provides the humor and rhythm and gentle humanity of the play. Without this character and without this performance it would not be the same experience. It is Kenny who reflects, recalling an old adventure when they were much younger and got lost, then found their way: “we used to be lost together, now we’re lost apart.” Kenny embodies hope in the human condition despite a wife suffering from cancer. He says quietly at one point, summing up his belief about Lady, and perhaps a little reflection about humanity: “that’s the thing about dogs, they just want to be good.”

The design team creates a stunningly realistic piece of the Lake Michigan shoreline: scenic design by Jack Magaw, lighting design by JR Lederle (note especially exciting sky effects), sound design by Lindsay Jones, and perfectly appropriate weekend warrior gear assembled by costume designer Mike Floyd.

The play is about cluelessness and action and commitment to truth. The play is about camaraderie and shared histories. And it is a lovely piece of art.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 18, 2007)

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