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Theater Review:

"BOOM TOWN," Pyewacket at Angel Island Theatre


Jeff Daniels captures the brutally swift tone of a real-estate development’s ability to uproot and displace a community in his power-packed 1998 play, "Boom Town." But instead of making suburban sprawl the central issue of this fiery 75-minute drama, the actor-playwright uses that troublesome reality as the hovering backdrop for the dissolution of a complex love triangle. He’s able to address issues of class and emotional isolation with a cataclysmic rapidity but does not shortchange the depth of his characters’ relationships.

"Boom Town" is the sort of charged, heartbreaking play that Pyewacket Theatre Company does best. And director Kenneth Lee strikes the necessary balance between turmoil and tenderness.

Set in a small Michigan town, the play centers on Angela, a frustrated middle-aged woman engaged in an intense affair with a young banker Frank. She pins all her hopes for inner liberation on running away with the commitment-leery Frank to Chicago. Meanwhile, she and her high-strung husband, Stuart, own a failing party supplies store and are late in paying their taxes. Frank is faced with the dilemma of having to tell this troubled couple about impending foreclosure. The financially secure banker is also involved with the corrupt politics behind a planned trailer-park development, which is sending struggling residents like Angela and Stuart into an economic tailspin. Plus the affair is reaching a boiling point.

Kate Harris, in one of her strongest and most sympathetic roles as Angela, truly gets to the core of her character’s embittered desperation. When Frank (an appropriately jittery but overly mannered performance by Tom Arvetis) unwittingly refers to her as a "mistake," Angela’s crumbling sense of self-worth plummets then rises up in defiant rage. And she is cruelly forced to turn to her betrayed and volatile husband, Stuart, for vindication. Rob Skrocki gives Stuart a raw but profoundly human edge, which reveals his non-cliched character’s unspoken dignity and commitment to his word – traits Angela and Frank discover only after numbing tragedy.

The Pyewacket creative team has taken great care in making this compellingly paced production meaningful and believable – right down to Martin Andrew’s plain but revealing rural kitchen set; Jeremy Getz’s subtly shifting lighting design; and sound designer Benjamin Getting’s atmospheric dog yelps.•

Pyewacket’s production of "Boom Town" runs through October 13 at Angel Island Theatre, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: $13-$15. Call 773-275-2201.

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