I would not have imagined that a play about political neutrality set during World War II could strike the soul with as much emotional and psychological profundity as does Timeline Theatre’s Chicago premiere production of Frank McGuinness’s 1999 drama, “Dolly West’s Kitchen.” Set in Ireland between the years of 1943-1945, it concerns the three adult West children, two sisters and a brother, as well as their saucy matriarch of a mother who manipulates their lives when she welcomes two American GIs and an old family friend, an estranged British officer, into their home and hearts. McGuinness weaves heterosexual passions, complicated love triangles and homosexual repression into a rich Chekhovian tapestry that finds a political metaphor in Ireland’s infamous neutral stance towards fighting Hitler in the Second World War; like their country and the war, the West siblings initially refuse to take sides for what they know to be right in their relationships, until they discover that the psychological costs are hardly worth their emotional neutrality. I imagine that in its original production at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin “Dolly West’s Kitchen” gleaned a tremendous resonance from its political dimension given that country’s strong sense of Irish Nationalism. So director Kimberly Senior, an expert handler of Chekhovian-type dialogue and drama, to which McGuinness clearly aspires here, is wise to focus her production on the triptych of love stories without ever allowing the play to fall into mawkish sentimentality. On the contrary, her trademark light directorial touch, uncluttered staging—on Brian Sidney Bembridge’s gorgeously realisticm neutral-colored set—as well as deft handling of male homosexual relationships, makes for a sustained sense of “feeling” throughout. The ensemble is first-rate, with Kat McDonnel in the title role, Kathleen Ruhl as her mother and Cliff Chamberlain as the British officer particularly memorable. If you see only one Irish play this winter—playwright Conor McPherson and his much ballyhooed “Shining City” at the Goodman is the other big contender—you should make it this one. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, (312)409-8469. This production is now closed.