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Theater Review:

"THE LIQUID MOON" at Chicago Dramatists

BY LUCIA MAURO

For most of the first act, resident playwright John Green’s "The Liquid Moon" – receiving its world premiere at Chicago Dramatists – seems headed in a hopelessly predictable direction. A middle-aged Chicago author, whose marriage has lost its sexual spark, wrestles with his feelings for a young female fan. Even the structure verges on a contrived stiffness as married protagonist Ryan confides in (or confesses to) his seemingly conservative Republican friend Paul (whose Religious Right slant is accented by his high blow-dried hairdo).

Then something extraordinary happens in the second act. Green bravely and intelligently examines the perils of self-imposed morality and questions the essence of rigid behavioral perimeters that often run counter to human nature. This daring relationship drama, whose poetic language gently washes over the audience, moves into the complex realms of self-doubt, natural curiosity, an indefinable sexual energy, karma and a blissful sense of resolution that comes with inner contentment and unconditional love.

The play’s final scene brings Ryan and his wife Barbara (on the brink of menopause) face to face with their own morality, and they gracefully accept their place in the never-ending life cycle.

Youth and age frame "The Liquid Moon." Ryan tries to come to terms with his sexual attraction to Kelly, the bubbly but troubled college-age girl who approaches him at a book signing, while struggling with his guilt and resentment over the presence of his wife’s feeble and elderly mother in his home. Meanwhile, his wife Barbara, a professor, is secretly dealing with her own loss of sexual vigor and constricted feelings exacerbated by the presence of her domineering mother.

A parallel youth-age tug exists in the person of Paul who, between his glib commentary, admits his own ill-fated affair with a younger woman. And, throughout the play, Ryan is torn between his respect for Kelly – illustrated by his attempt to befriend her in a muse-like courtly-love sort of way – and his need for wild sexual release. Green has developed monumental tensions not easily resolved in a quick, physical way.

For all its delving into the libido – and requisite full-frontal nudity -- "The Liquid Moon" is an intensely cerebral play that does not so much aim to justify "immoral" urges as maturely explore the energy – whether sexual or love-inspired -- that drives the human soul.

Green also has a sharp ear for natural, uninhibited speech and injects a very real and charming humor into the work’s weightier ponderings.

Director Ann Filmer allows the play to unfold in an honest and believable manner –reaching its most rewarding moments in the revelatory second act. Norm Boucher, a self-deprecating Everyman, is perfectly cast as Ryan. Neither mincing nor wimpy, his Ryan genuinely attempts to balance his primal and sensitive sides. He is beautifully paired with Judy Blue’s softly suffering but grounded Barbara. One really believes their marriage is like a protective and embracing "home."

Carrie Layne begins with an overly perky, almost manipulative and unreadable, interpretation of Kelly. Then she subtly eases into her character’s emotional traumas and enlightened moments. Stephen Spencer, who delivers a slightly stilted portrayal of Paul, ultimately reveals the flawed but tolerant human being behind his conservative façade.

Joey Wade’s clean, minimalist living room/deck set – magically lit by Jeff Pines -- soars to infinity as it tapers off into a surreal swirl. This is a lovely and moving drama that dares to take morality to task without relinquishing high standards of human behavior.•

"The Liquid Moon" runs through November 4 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets: $15-$18. Call 312-633-0630 or log onto www.chicagodramatists.org.

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