Chicago Sun-Times

FROM FAM­ILY DRAMA TO A DRAG SHOW

The emo­tions run equally deep in these two very dis­parate shows

- HEDY WEISS

Talk about op­po­site ends of the the­atri­cal spec­trum. It would be dif­fi­cult to think of two more dis­parate shows than Julie Jensen’s play, “Win­ter,” now in its world pre­miere at Riven­dell Theatre, and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” the hit juke­box mu­si­cal ( based on the 1994 Aus­tralian film) that is serv­ing as the in­au­gu­ral pro­duc­tion at Pride Films & Plays’ new two- stage home ( for­merly Pro­files Theatre) in Chicago’s Buena Park neigh­bor­hood.

“Win­ter” is the lat­est en­try in what might some­day be a col­lec­tion of the grow­ing num­ber of “Alzheimer’s spec­trum” plays ( and that is not meant to be glib, for “King Lear” would eas­ily qual­ify as the ini­tial en­try in any such vol­ume).

“Priscilla” would eas­ily qual­ify for en­try into an an­thol­ogy of Broad­way’s many “pride” sto­ries, from “La Cage aux Folles” to “Hair­spray” and “Kinky Boots.”

Here is a closer look at each pro­duc­tion.

Co- di­rected by Me­gan Car­ney and Mark Ul­rich ( and in­spired by Mar­garet Pabst Bat­tin’s 2005 book “End­ing Life: Ethics and the Way to Die”), the fic­tional “Win­ter” is framed by the fa­mil­iar trope of es­tranged sib­lings re­turn­ing to visit their par­ents’ home for Thanks­giv­ing. The din­ner takes place off­stage; what we see is the liv­ing room/ of­fice area. And what we wit­ness is the panic, anger and pe­ri­odic dis­ori­en­ta­tion of An­nis ( the al­ways com­pelling and emotionall­y vivid Bar­bara E. Robertson), a re­tired poet and pro­fes­sor in late mid­dle age who is keenly aware that she is los­ing her men­tal fac­ul­ties and in­tent on end­ing her life at the time of her own choos­ing.

An­nis be­lieves her hus­band of many years, Robeck ( Dan Flan­nery), will abide by their pact “to go to­gether.” But Robeck, an ex­per­i­men­tal sci­en­tist try­ing des­per­ately to hold on to his ca­reer de­spite be­ing pushed out by his lab ( a sit­u­a­tion Jensen has cap­tured to per­fec­tion), is far from ready. Mean­while, the cou­ple’s sons — mar­ried, well- to- do in­vest­ment banker Roddy ( Sean Cooper) and his younger, sin­gle, more bo­hemian brother Evan ( Steve Hag­gard) — dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally in how they want to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. ( The broth­ers’ scenes to­gether are ideally charged and win­ningly played by both ac­tors.) And An­nis must turn for help to her grand­daugh­ter, LD ( Mar­ta­sia Jones) — a free- think­ing ( and per­haps not en­tirely al­tru­is­tic) young woman whose mother just hap­pened to have suf­fered from se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues.

Elvia Moreno’s set makes the most of Riven­dell’s in­ti­mate space, and Michael Mahlum’s light­ing win­ningly cap­tures An­nis’ ter­ri­fy­ing “episodes” in this un­spar­ing if some­what be­lief- stretch­ing story that has all too many real- life par­al­lels.

Part of the fun in watch­ing “Priscilla” is to see how clev­erly co- direc­tors Derek Van Barham and David Zak, along with chore­og­ra­pher Jon Martinez and their de­sign team, have man­aged to shoe­horn a grand- scale mu­si­cal into a store­front space and how they home in on the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, never sac­ri­fic­ing the re­quired glitz and big pro­duc­tion num­bers.

The story takes us Down Un­der as two danc­ing, lip­synch­ing drag queens — Tick ( Jor­dan Phelps) and Adam ( Luke Meierdier­cks) — and Ber­nadette ( Honey West), a trans­gen­der woman who, in ear­lier days, was quite the star, rent a bus and leave the rel­a­tively safe con­fines of Sydney for the long ride to Alice Springs, a town in the re­mote Aus­tralian desert. The club where they are to per­form their drag show is run by Marion ( Britt- Marie Sivert­sen), Tick’s wel­com­ing ex- wife — a chore­og­ra­pher who also hap­pens to be the mother of Benji, their 10- year- old son, whom Tick very much wants to get to know. The trip is more than event­ful and marked by sev­eral painful en­coun­ters with ho­mo­pho­bia as well as cer­ti­fi­able ec­centrics.

Awash in span­gles, sparkles and wigs ( cos­tume de­signer John Nasca had his work cut out for him), the large cast sings and dances up a storm, with a trio of di­vas — Jill Ses­son, Tues­dai B. Perry and Rebecca Cole­man — strut­ting with style. There is some zany sex com­edy by way of a ping- pong ball act per­formed by Cyn­thia ( Maiko Ter­azawa). And there is a crazy ro­mance be­tween Ber­nadette ( West brings a cer­tain old- school ro­mance to the pro­ceed­ings) and Cyn­thia’s odd­ball hus­band, Bob ( John Car­done). Along with all the camp and cat­ti­ness ( cour­tesy of the show’s book by Stephen El­liott and Allan Scott), there also is heart. Fol­low Hedy Weiss on Twit­ter: @ HedyWeis­sCritic

 ??  ?? Luke Meierdier­cks ( from left), Honey West and Jor­dan Phelps star in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
| PAUL GOYETTE
Luke Meierdier­cks ( from left), Honey West and Jor­dan Phelps star in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” | PAUL GOYETTE
 ??  ?? Bar­bara E. Robertson and Dan Flan­nery star in “Win­ter.” MICHAEL BROSILOW
Bar­bara E. Robertson and Dan Flan­nery star in “Win­ter.” MICHAEL BROSILOW
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