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Theater Review:

"WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE," Real Rain Productions at Athenaeum Theatre

BY LUCIA MAURO

Scores of profound ideas wander in and out of the movable doors that shape the set of Real Rain Productions’ world-premiere staging of "Waiting for the Sunrise" at the Athenaeum Theatre. But playwright Richard Ford is more adept at raising disturbing questions than organizing them into either a cohesive whole or expertly streamlined dissonance.

His experimental format -- which segues through time, memory and fantasy – has potential if only he took greater care with consistency of tone and did some sharper editing. That said, "Waiting for the Sunrise" is an impressive second show for the one-year-old Real Rain Productions, dedicated to new and experimental work with evocative themes. Director Rick Fonté elicits an unforced immediacy from the majority of his cast despite some pacing missteps and awkward maneuverings of the play’s overly complex set (also designed by Fontè).

Besides the ever-mobile black doors, scenery consists of yellow-painted chairs and a rolling frame – wrapped symbolically in rope – that doubles as a desk and a bed. Such clunky props, although illustrative of the characters’ stumblings and entanglements, hinder the production’s seamless flow.

"Waiting for the Sunrise" has at the heart of its conflict two brothers – one a corrupt mayor, David, making a senate run; the other an ethics professor, Arthur, who opposes David’s subversive approach to a city-wide teachers’ strike. They essentially represent the dichotomies of ruthless ambition and immovable integrity. While set in the present day, the playwright inserts dream sequences in which the two are clad in chainmail fighting with broadswords.

The most fascinating idea in the script is that of modern-day warrior antics. The playwright explores the psychological similarities between contemporary politicians and medieval rulers – adding commentary on religious "morality" and the concepts of blood sacrifice, betrayal and power plays. Two recurring lines that sum up the characters’ ideologies are "Life is not for the meek"; and "How do you sleep at night?"

Over the course of the play, we watch David’s ambitious and unfulfilled life flash before us. Actors representing his young, idealistic self and the loyal girlfriend he abandoned float in and out of the story – as does his stone-hearted politician-father and deceased alcoholic mother. Also marching across the stage are his power-packed, union-consultant wife Carol; his lover Kate (who frames Arthur); Arthur’s comfortable but unsatisfied wife Ann; and the figure of time in the form of a young girl in flowing robes (the least effective motif).

The multiple characters played by the explosive Craig C. Thompson and the boldly seductive Debra Ann Miller most clearly convey the playwright’s acute metaphoric sense (especially Thompson’s "sports hero" portrayal of The American Dream – "every inch a winner.") And Ford’s satiric references to "kitchen-sink realism" are clever but don’t fit into the overall story.

John Fenner Mays as David delivers a fortifying performance – one that balances self-absorbed, rage-filled power mongering with a tragic and pathetic futility. Michael Kass as Arthur is his measured and stoic counterpart. Jeanine O’Connell plays the tough-edged Carol in the combined career-woman style of Anette Bening and Diane Keaton. And Allie Smith does not steep Kate, David’s mistress, in flighty cliches.

"Waiting for the Sunrise" makes searing comments about the deadly games played within our so-called civil society. But Ford takes a long, circuitous route to reach his fairly basic theme: the choices we make and their consequences.•

Real Rain Productions’ staging of "Waiting for the Sunrise" runs through Aug. 4 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. Tickets: $15. Call 312-902-1500.

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