Route 66 Theatre Company introduced itself to the Chicago and national scene with total transparency, both in name and in mission statement, undertaking to introduce, develop, produce and “export new works for the stage.” Using the highway of its name, the company has travelled with its productions to Los Angeles and New York. 2014 makes its first full season of new work.
Beautifully cast, with fine production values, the players and the production team throw themselves wildly into the “Cicada” hopscotch championship and never step on a crack. The nine-member ensemble immerse themselves in the material, inviting the audience into the story, while supporting each other seamlessly. As Lily, Amy Matheny runs to the dark place required of her, and lives there unstintingly. Aaron Kirby plays Lily’s son Ace, jumping through every flaming circus hoop required of him. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s scenic and lighting design coddles the audience, and then holds them by the hand and runs with them through every twisting transition.
Southern playwright Jerre Dye tells us “Cicada” takes place in Mississippi. “I’m a Mississippian,” he says. “When I get in the car….and I drive…across the state line, something peculiar happens. My people live there. …People are tied to the land.” There is no doubt whatsoever that Dye is a southerner through and through; he draws his characters with a knowing pen, the dialogue natural, the humor organic and lightly tossed. However, “Cicada’s” ninety-minute performance time without intermission is symptomatic of the fact that the piece has not yet earned the rank of “play.” If “Cicada” was cut down to one-act status, it would be forgivable that it is a poem—or at best a hymn—an ode that pulls on the heart-strings while failing to provide a central theme. Secondary themes of unmerciful matriarchy, hidden homosexuality, cleanliness’ relationship to godliness, and genetic madness are used masterfully in “Cicada.” But for this insect to reach full maturation it will be necessary to decide which story is being told, and to which character the story belongs. (Aaron Hunt)
Route 66 Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)404-7336, greenhousetheater.org. $30-$35. Through May 25.