"SIBLING REVELRY," Tellin Tales Theatre at Prop Thtr
BY LUCIA MAURO
Tekki Lomnicki, artistic director of Tellin Tales Theatre, is a dynamic catalyst for encouraging persons from all walks of life and levels of abilities to share their stories in a beautifully sculpted and witty theatrical fashion. Her troupes latest group show, "Sibling Revelry," at Prop Thtr features four solo artists illuminating and dissecting the bonds that exist between brothers and sisters even if those ties grew out of antagonism, power trips or tragedy.
Overall, the writer-performers delve into painful emotional issues without resorting to a string of maudlin confessions on stage. Three out of the four Diane Dorsey, Judith Harding and Lomnicki have mastered the suggestive flow of solo artistry as they concisely provide us with evocative imagery and balance heartbreak with confident resolve. On the flip side, Julie Caffeys interminable multidisciplinary segment takes 40 minutes of self-consciously experimental exposition to get across a rather basic message, which her fellow artists crisply achieve in half the time.
The most moving albeit non-self-pitying work on the program is actress Diane Dorseys "My Sisters Song," a startlingly honest and tender reflection on her mentally disabled younger sibling, Marcia, who currently lives in an assisted-care facility. Dorsey a very real actress with a rapid-fire range that never feels rushed --- gently frames the story in familiar childrens ditties, like "Happy Birthday" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Traveling in and out of time, she intricately reveals her own mothers devotion to her daughter by insisting that Dorsey and her youngest sister include Marcia in all of their activities as well as the unexpected violence inflicted on Marcia from a seemingly benign outsider. We also learn of the possible shocking cause of Marcias "impairment" in utero, as well as one familys determination to protect this child regardless of unseen forces. At one point, Dorsey shares her own frustration at Marcias decreasing ability to formulate words only to catch herself and soothingly give voice to a woman with less tangible life-giving gifts to share.
On the humorous, but no less profound side, is Judith Hardings recreation of her brothers penchant for pretending to say Mass at the age of 7 in "Tales from the Chalice." A deceptively simple reminiscence evolves into a seriously multitiered look at intolerance and chauvinism tempered with resounding themes of dedication to a cause and personal triumph.
Employing generous doses of Irish-Catholic humor, Harding recounts how her brother "Toss" (who, ironically, later became a member of the wine-making Christian Brothers, an order that is not allowed to say Mass) would use the familys prized chalice from Ireland to conduct the ritual of the Eucharist. An ironing board doubled as an altar; a ping-pong paddle became a communion salver.
Conflict arises when Toss refuses to let Harding be an altar boy for the simple reason that shes a girl. The then-5-year-old Harding is crushed because she had her heart set on ringing the bells when the priest lifts the host prompting a riotous segment in which she likens the fervent clanging to: "God is here, God is here! My God, God is really, really here!" When Toss allows a non-Christian neighborhood boy to ring the bells, his sister cannot recover from the perceived betrayal.
Harding an engagingly sincere performer -- also addresses the perils of living in the shadow of her saint-like brother: "You try being the Messiahs little sister." And she is especially clever at revealing hilariously delusional absurdities like her fathers belief that his son is the familys "ticket to heaven."
Lomnicki also focuses on her brother in "Wally," briskly directed by Chris Bruzzini. But her gruff, obscenity-spewing soccer-dad exists on the opposite end of the personality spectrum from Hardings saintly sibling. Nevertheless, by the end of this no-holds-barred monologue, Wally is no cartoonish blow-hard. His revelations well up from a deep place of frustrated need and wounded self-esteem.
And, while Lomnicki can further tighten the writing (right now, it comes dangerously close to a repetitious rant), she has crafted a remarkably stinging role-reversal. Lomnicki, a little person, takes on the forthright persona of her straightforward brother sharing the pain of living in the shadow of his spunky older sister half his size. She talks about her own drive and passion for the stage in Wallys colorful words. But Lomnicki is not in the spotlight; its really about her able-bodied brothers paradoxical struggles with being invisible.
Wally also took on the role of protector for his small-framed sister and, later, for his younger brother Ed, who underwent serious eye surgery. Wallys decidedly non-PC outbursts, delivered by Lomnicki in a nasally Chicago/Polish-American cadence, ultimately reveal the loneliness beneath the bravura. One of the monologues most tender moments is Wallys childhood memory of his mother surprising him with a birthday cake in the shape of a pirate ship.
Lomnicki could easily have made fun of her loud-mouthed brother. Instead she sheds light on Wallys own silent suffering and the monumental expectations foisted on him and manages to make us laugh until we cry.
Julie Caffeys over-ambitious "Underwater Football" complete with an overhead projector and live video projections (mainly close-ups of her mouth as she speaks into a bowl filled with water) could benefit from a sharper focus. Her potentially compelling story about how she and her embittered brother Jack restore their estranged fathers crumbling life and pack-rat-style home gets lost in under-rehearsed experimentation.
Caffey clogs her performance with too much extraneous material like her complex family tree and her own coming-of-age issues. References to Herman Melville and the biblical story of Jonah add more impenetrable layers. Caffeys casual delivery also meanders to a point where I questioned if she may have been winging it.
The multiple water motifs could work (especially the metaphor of non-communication via her deliberately indecipherable underwater speeches). But the symbolism wears thin and can be confusing. A keener awareness of the audience; of sharp pacing and delivery; and carefully chosen words could help transform this rambling lecture into a pungent vignette about acceptance, forgiveness and change.
Tellin Tales Theatres production of "Sibling Revelry" runs through June 23 at Prop Thtr, 4225 N. Lincoln. Tickets: $15. Call 312-409-1025 or log onto www.tellintales.org.