An odd side effect of our political dysfunction is the high bar set for any play dealing with paranoid government conspiracies. You cannot compete with Trump’s Twitter account. Credit Christina Telesca Gorman for giving it a try in her well-crafted “Roan @ the Gates,” in its Chicago premiere at the American Blues Theater. When Roan, an NSA employee, comes to grips with her role in a massive government data-mining program (one so immense that information is stored in a special server housed in Idaho), she decides that the only thing to do is to leak the information to a Wikileaks-style entity. That choice leads to her having to take refuge in Russia. Left behind is her wife Nat, who struggles to pick up the pieces.
However troubling the setup may be, the beating heart of this production is the relationship between Roan and Nat. Played with real guts by Brenda Barrie (Roan) and Jasmine Bracey (Nat), the actors wrestle with bigger concepts of loyalty and virtue while also trying to salvage their relationship. Bracey is especially convincing as a civil rights attorney who, although unafraid to stand up for her own beliefs, cannot forgive Roan for doing the same.
Also commendable is director Lexi Saunders’ deft use of technology. In the beginning, Nat and Roan are able to debate one another face to face. Toward the end, however, they have to do so via an encrypted messenger, their voices nothing more than robotic utterances drifting from one continent to the other. It is as if the two characters are reduced in real time to just another set of data points. It is these flourishes, along with the truly memorable performances by Barrie and Bracey, that elevate this production from political thriller to something more relatable. (Noel Schecter)
American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont, (773)327-5252, americanbluestheater.com, $19-$39. Through February 29.