"The Things We Keep" Review- an unsettling play with a secret in it's midst

“The Things We Keep”, presented by the Arc Theatre, written by Arc Theatre’s Artistic Director Marc Boergers, directed by Natalie Sallee, Casting/Artistic Associate of New Works at the Arc, and starring Kirsten D'Aurelio as Marie, the wealthy aunt of Adrienne Matzen, Teddy Boone, Associate Artistic Director of the Arc, and Joe Flynn, is being presented at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, through February 28th 2016. It is a world premiere play about a dark and hidden family secret conceived long ago which lies concealed beneath the activities that open the action. The aunt of the three cousins and sometime-surrogate mother of D’Aurelio has recently died, leaving the three angry cousins bereft of the inheritance they were long planning on receiving; indeed, one of them expresses the belief that this former collage-artist was worth “tens of millions”. However, their relative has confounded their greedy desires, leaving them nothing but her ramshackle old house, filled to the brim with junk-it appears in later life she became quite a hoarder. When the play opens, and for much of the first act, they have just come from her funeral and memorial service- although D’Aurelio misses it altogether- and are vociferously unhappy as they whine about their newly deceased aunt -“the old hag” is one of the kinder names by which they refer to their relative.

Joe Flynn, Adrienne Matzen and Teddy Boone

The theme of the play develops as long-hidden secrets are revealed, long-felt disturbing emotions emerge, and some of the truths about these family members and families in general are disclosed through the vehicle of travelling back and forth in time-from 1968 through 1978, to 2003. Much of the displaced feelings are not pretty, and the mood of the piece-the first play launched since the company’s move to Evanston- is dark, even unattractive at times.  After all, who is light and well behaved when expected millions are summarily wrenched from their grasp, and they are left to deal with that loss in the company of those with whom one has shared an unlovely and complicated past?

Teddy Boone and Kirsten D'Aurelio

This reviewer interviewed the playwright in an effort to understand and shed some light on his thoughts about this creation, and came away very impressed with Mark Boergers knowledge and thoughtfulness. As a theater artist, Boergers has worn many hats and lived in many countries. In addition to his artistic directorship at The Arc, which is well known for its Shakespearean productions, he is a full-time professor at and Artistic Director of the Theater Department at Cardinal Stritch College outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he is actively engaged in developing a playwriting course.

Adrienne Matzen and Teddy Boone

This is the first full-length play he has written for the Arc although he began to write it in graduate school. He not only rewrote it a dozen times, after each weekend performance, the audience is invited to remain and make suggestions, which may well be adapted to the piece. Boergers mission in writing a play is to create strong actor-director processes- to demonstrate people involved in complex relationships. He talks about facilitating the expression of the brains and creativity of the artists involved.

Adrienne Matzen, Kirsten D'Aurelio and Teddy Boone

 For the Arc, whose purpose he’s described as dedicated to the exploration of archetypal stories, this play is certainly cast in that mold. It deals with ethnography and how the sins of the fathers may not necessarily be visited upon their sons, but there is certainly a tendency within families to reenact past modes of behavior, even or especially when the behavior is non-productive. Until one learns the inherent lesson, one is doomed to repeat the actions. At the heart of this play, there lies the slow revealing of a dark element.

Teddy Boone and Joe Flynn

In Boergers view,  drama allows us to achieve not an escape but a deep and intimate look at our own lives and relationships. Because we experience theater in a roomful of other people, the events on stage are shared. If the director has set forth a smart world in which the characters can play out their vision, something valuable has been achieved. In “The Things We Keep”, one important view is the way in which we, the audience, address the character of the aunt, “Marie”, as an archetypal matriarch. Where did she get the riches, who or what is entitled to have them when she is gone, and who is left to wade through the remains of her life? For an answer to these intriguing questions, go to the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston this weekend.

Kirsten D'Aurelio

For tickets to this play and information about other Arc productions, see arctheatrechicago.org

Photos courtesy of Emily Schwartz

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