MadLab Launches 25th Season With Moving ‘Sheridan’
MadLab returns to in-person performance this weekend with the world premiere of Christian Missonak’s Sheridan, directed by James Blackmon.
Sheridan centers on a Chicago couple, Lucy (Rachel Cagle) and Ethan (Ian George), grieving the stillbirth of their child in sharply drawn, unhealthy ways. Lucy’s friend Piper (Amanda Khosraviani) and Ethan’s brother Mark (Erik Bobbitt), drop into their orbit to offer help they’re not fully equipped to give.
In 70 minutes with no intermission, Sheridan pulls off the remarkable job of making the characters more likable as it progresses; revealing glimpses of the genuine care Lucy and Ethan have for one another underneath the layers of hurt and anger and recrimination. Some scenes feel a little padded with Mamet-esque repetition, but the electricity Cagle and George bring to the roles keeps that sense of padding from derailing the play’s momentum.
Blackmon’s, along with Michelle Sandler as Assistant Director and Stage Manager, direction also bolsters that momentum with his visual, tactile approach. The characters move in interesting shapes, naturalism gets tweaked and heightened just enough to knock the viewer off balance. Kate Hawthorn studs her brilliant set with little details that sharpen the experience, enhancing the dread and claustrophobia of the world these two inhabit.
The rest of the acting is also top notch. Khosraviani and Bobbitt bring the right amount of gravity to their characters, even when they exist to get something out of Lucy or Ethan, they always make Mark and Piper feel like people. They handle sometimes convoluted info dumps and what could be neon-sign-bright plot device markers with grace. Even Reagan Hyer’s server in the nouveau tiki bar makes an impression in a few lines with a crackling presence.
For a one act, at times Sheridan feels like it’s stretching the core subject matter of what grief means and how hurt compounds hurt, a little thin. At other times, it feels like it crams more in than it knows what to do with.
There’s a remarkable scene with Stephen Woosley, delightfully unctuous as a former abuser of Lucy now working with Piper, that feels shoehorned into the piece both because it feels like that source of Lucy’s pain and anger deserves to be fleshed out and because the dialogue shifts gears so everyone is talking like they’re in a film noir for five minutes.
A lovely bit of reflection showcasing Bobbitt as he talks about his character’s marriage also feels like if it’s going to be there, it should have more light and room to grow, so ends up feeling tacked on.
Those gripes aside, when Sheridan is working, it’s full of tough-minded, hard beauty. It understands that sometimes the person in the middle of the pain is the least equipped to understand it, but there’s no other way to understand it and to find a way out.
In its best moments, it wrung un-self-conscious tears out of me and knocked the wind out of my lungs as it made its characters work for even tenuous, uncertain hope, because we’re all better with each other. That’s a message many of us can use most of the time, but it especially resonated with me now.
Sheridan runs through August 28 with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit madlab.net.