If you exult in seeing actors reach the highest bars of their craft, you will likely revel in Cole Theatre’s production of “Ecstasy” by Mike Leigh.
Mike Leigh’s works are known for letting top-of-the-line actors show their stuff with electric results. In this production, the actors seem to have taken on the skin of each character in this group of friends and neighbors in working class London. With ample subtle gestures they add to the lines that at times you will strain to hear through the thick Cockney and Irish accents.
When the curtain goes up we see two nude actors --Jean (played by Maura Kidwell) and her married paramour of the evening Roy (played by Joel Reitsma)-- lost in their solo post-sex thoughts. That might seem like a bare-all moment, but by play’s end when the emotional life of Jean unravels before us, that naked scene at the play’s opener might in retrospect seem to be the one most fully dressed.
If we pay attention we see Jean’s best friend Dawn (played by Michaela Petro) looking at her husband Mick (played by Mike Boyd) with tentative eyes as he embraces her friend Jean the same day Dawn had learned Jean was having affairs with married men. We see an old flame of Jean’s and friend to Dawn and Mick, Len (played by Layne Manzer) struggling with his obvious attraction to Jean but with brakes on that his personal history commands. If you’ve ever had an ambivalent moment you can feel his palms moist as he steals glances. These and similar unspoken gestures by this able cast give depth and texture to every moment of the performance. Acting is rarely better than this.
This is a two-act play and it’s the second act where we really get inside the room with the characters. In Jean’s one room apartment we watch as the group gets super “pissed” (drunk, in Brit speak) and sloppy. The details of the dreariness of their day lives are a constant backdrop reference. Yet it’s not a depressing scene because we fall in love with the spark within each character and revel in our intimacy with them.
It was inspired to stage this intimate production in the small space of A Red Orchid Theatre.
That this is the debut production of a new theater company promises to also make this a milestone in Chicago’s theatrical history.
Now through September 28 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St., Chicago.
For tickets call the box office at 773 747 6821 or visit the Cole Theatre website.
Photos: Michael Brosilow