Monday, February 9, 2015

"Aunt Lakie's Not Coming to Dinner"

Aunt Lakie’s Not Coming to Dinner
Susan Rabin
Windy City Productions at The Phoenix Theatre

The table is set for company, and cookies are coming out the oven as two, elderly, Jewish sisters prepare to welcome an aunt and uncle for dinner.  However, that is not to be since Aunt Lakie has just left this world for the beyond; and it is that unfortunate surprise that springs open Pandora’s box (or more accurately, a music box that will play a front and center role during much of Aunt Lakie's Not Coming to Dinner).

Our sisters, we soon learn, co-exist through ongoing, daily explosions of accusations; emotional outbursts; and dramatic, door-slamming exits to their respective bedrooms.  Claire, the younger of the two, is actually the one who is trying her best to keep their meager household afloat financially and her sister Iris on her meds for her increasing dementia.  Iris is an eccentric-dressing free-spirit who is sure her aunt was murdered by her uncle, who knows that their wicked mother always loved Claire the best, and who is sure that Claire is trying to control her every move and make her life totally miserable.  And she knows Claire is keeping hidden away the music box their mother meant for her. 

An unexpected delivery by an extremely hunky mailman ignites Iris’ wild imagination into a world where she and the postman become co-plotters of how to outsmart Claire.  In this dream, the sexy postman becomes her lover and her protector; and his advice/commands we soon see are her own split personality playing out the scenes as she imagines they should be.  As often happens in family-oriented plays, there are big, ugly secrets these two have kept from each other for many years.  They will not be secrets for long as the music box, the postman, and the dead aunt spawn a flood of blames and confessions.

Zoe Conner brings us a Yiddish-speaking, funny and sad lady who wears ugly bows in her hair and outrageous animal slippers on her feet.  Her Iris is often just on the edge of being too over-the-top; yet she pulls her back just in time for the audience to empathize with her aging illusions and her feelings of life as an unfair journey.  Carolyn Compton as Claire fools us into thinking she is the sane and sacrificing caregiver as she ever-so-slowly peels away a veneer to show us a sadder core.  Ms. Compton had trouble in our performance delivering all her lines without numerous stumbles, but she actually pulled the moments off without real mishaps.  Scott Gessford as the friendly mailman turned-by-Iris into a lust-filled, hairy chested dreamboy, adequately struts the part but not with total polish.

This world premiere production is a low-budget affair, and the various scenes have too many pregnant pauses between them.  But the ninety minutes are absolutely enjoyable.  What would be really fun would be to see what a few more bucks in the budget could bring to the next iteration.

Rating:  3 E   

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