According to the dictionary “simpatico” means 1: agreeable, likable or 2: being on the same wavelength. Sam Shepard’s play by this name is the story of how a man who felt wronged went to great lengths to bring all those who wronged him “on the same wavelength”, and that path was downward all the way.
Red Orchid Theatre tells this tale without flaw. The actors and director (Dado) know their craft so well that even those of us who have never ventured to a racetrack nor could tell a mare from a stallion find every detail of this racing world whodunit more than plausible. I was stunned by my wrist alarm that is set to warn me hourly if I have been sitting still because I was so enraptured by the story I would have guessed only ten minutes had passed. At the heart of the story is a mystery of who did what to whom years ago. There were setups and tricks turned. There was pornography and blackmail. New identities were forged. Older identities were lost.
Although we never quite get the full skinny on exactly what happened when, we do get how each character’s identity and attitudes were shaped by the past double cross and how this fueled the double cross acted out in real time as the play unfolds. At first, the old business partners who are at the center of this story sound like the last gasps of a failed rage-filled marriage being performed before us, the audience as marriage counselor, with acerbic lines performed as the union’s last rites.
We learn that well-heeled Carter (Michael Shannon) has been keeping Vinnie (Guy Van Swearingen) in cash and some degree of comfort for years. They are as simpatico as one can imagine it gets when one has stolen the other’s wife, Rosie (Jennifer Engstrom).
What was a workable if not altogether happy situation for Vinnie reportedly startled to unravel as he did when he met his would-be heart-throb, Cecilia (Mierka Girten), whose off-beat character is one without guile, making her a foil to just about everyone else in the story.
This is the story of Carter’s comeuppance, with one of the first delivery men of the new double cross in the works delivered by Simms, a thoroughbred blood line ensconced horse trader played memorably by Doug Vickers.
Along the way the once married Vinnie and Rosie meet, where we see just how much Rosie’s blood runs like ice water.
We see Cecilia lure Simms away from his study of thoroughbred lifelines so unimaginable until her character walked through his door.
Telling more of the tale would be a major spoiler, and why say that when the much better thing to say is “go see this show!”
Red Orchid Theatre is a small space, and their selection of Shepard’s play for the venue is very commendable. The simple set (Grant Sabin)and abundance of bourbon bottles put you in situ all the way. In fact, my wrist alarm telling me I was sitting went off again after intermission, then too, stunning me to realize that an hour and not minutes had just flown by.
Simpatico, through August 25 (Sold out-- stand by tickets only)
Red Orchid Theatre
1531 N. Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610
312 - 943 - 8722
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Video credit: Stage Channel