Perhaps the greatest gift art bestows on us is its ability to translate the universal into the personal. We have all read statistics that our minds simply cannot grasp: How many injured? How many killed? How many broken? “For Annie,” the engrossing new play by Beth Hyland, takes the sadly well-weathered textbook of domestic abuse and translates it into the poetry of everyday life.
Hyland’s play was directed by Rebecca Willingham and received its all-too-short world premiere run with The Sound. The story of “For Annie” will likely be an all too familiar one because, as the statistics unfailingly demonstrate, the victims of domestic abuse are predominantly women.
“For Annie” maps the conditions of abuse directly onto relationships that are familiar to the point of being archetypal. Yet the women and men of this show inhabit their roles with admirable conviction even while chatting about Justin Bieber, Snapchatting and otherwise occupying themselves with the activities of the oft-maligned millennial generation.
The last few minutes of “For Annie” add yet another layer onto this already nuanced portrayal of femininity. As her friends sing her “favorite” song (the sickly sweet dirge of “Ho Hey!” by The Lumineers), Annie’s ghost returns, à la “Our Town.” Only rather than Thornton Wilder’s listless spirits, Annie is possessed by righteous indignation: This tribute her friends have put together in her honor has been more about them than her. “You don’t miss me as much as I miss you!” she screams to their unhearing ears.
It’s an unnerving sentiment, one rarely expressed in eulogies. The guilt of the living is supposed to be absolved by the presumed forgiveness of the dead. But perhaps the afterlife is not so peaceful after all.
“For Annie” is a difficult yet endearing play about what it means to be a woman, now and for all time. And it is exactly the kind of art that we desperately need more of. We all know an Annie. Or a Jessie. Or a Nick. What Hyland’s play suggests is that maybe we ought to know them better. (Kevin Greene)
The Sound at The Edge Theater, 5451 North Broadway, thesoundchicago.com, $10. Through September 4.