Griffin Theatre’s “Balm in Gilead” Review – Junkies Crowding a Nighthawk’s Scene

 

Imagine Edward Hopper’s famous portrayal of a diner, “Nighthawks”, except set in a raunchy part of Manhattan that overflows with junkies, hookers, street-tough transvestites and guys up to no good.  Then make this mental picture grittier still, such that you may want to check yourself for scabies when you leave the theater.

 

 

This is the brilliance of “Balm in Gilead”, that with its overflow talented cast numbering 28, so realistically creates the down-and-out scene of this New York City dive, circa 1960’s, that it quickly envelops you into its world and makes you begin to wonder how you’ve come to sink so low.

 

The directing by Griffin Ensemble Member Jonathan Berry is magnificent.   It’s difficult to imagine a production that served playwright Lanford Wilson’s vision better than this one.

 

 

We enter a chaotic scene where the café and its surrounds are exploding with loud conversations that all sound street.  We get drifts of the story emerging from the din when one or two voices reaches above the crowd and then dials down so that another node of vignette in some other conversation can take its place.  

 

 

The never seen but feared drug lord who really rules the street is introduced early on.   One thing you know for sure right from the start-- this isn’t going to be a play with a happy ending.

 

Every character is very real.  

 

 

When fresh-faced Darlene, played by Ashleigh Lathrop, gives a long meandering soliloquy in the second Act she is spellbinding.  We dangle with her in pauses and disconnects alike.  Mesmerizing too was Cyd Blakewell, even with laryngitis, as Ann, the would-be teacher who opted for life as a hooker instead.  Most of the characters have short cameo moments and all seem more than able to make the most of them. 

 

Running now through April 19.

 

The Den Theatre

1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Chicago

 

For tickets visit the Griffin Theatre website

 

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Photos: Michael Brosilow

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