A Permanent Image is a lot more than your typical family drama. Sure, there are the obligatory big secrets and family snapshots designed to make your family seem ever the bit more tolerable. But A Permanent Image also serves up a healthy dose of absurd post-modern existential angst. Not enough for the show to be “artsy” (and by artsy I mean an unbearable metaphor), but just enough to leave you with more questions than you came with. Where other shows are content to bring you to the funeral, this one grapples with the ultimate ramifications of string theory. And what is the logical conclusion reached when ultimately we all are just one bit of cosmic dust let loose by the big bang?
Set in Idaho, Samuel D. Hunter’s play (directed by Joshua Aaron Weinstein and brought to Chicago by Live Wire in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) begins with a family reunited on Christmas Eve by the unexpected death of their father Martin (Jack McCabe). Martin’s wife Carol (played exceedingly well by Janice O’Neill) has responded to this tragic turn of events by painting the whole damn interior of the house white. Her children, Bo (Ed Dzialo) and Ally (Mary Williamson), cannot decide if this is because of the drinking or just a part of her grieving process. Or maybe it is because, as Bo says, she is just “fu**ing crazy.” Giving some explanation to everything is Martin himself whose self-recorded videos are periodically projected on the stage as his children watch them on television. It turns out that dad had been doing a lot of thinking and some of his ideas are a bit unconventional.
One of the many things I loved about this play was its strong sense of place. The characters are made memorable not just by who they are, but by what they are playing against. Ally, as described by her mother, may be an “enlightened lesbian,” but she also feels compelled to have a bunker built on her thirty acres. And do not get her started on Obama. Her brother Bo, meantime, has wandered as far as he can away from Idaho to make a difference as a photo journalist in the Middle East. Gone five years, it is not long at all before he is accused (probably correctly) of preaching from his “liberal high horse.” At first glance their often manipulative and needy parents would seem to fit right into several other family dramas. But by the end of the show, when all their choices have been revealed, maybe their particular blend of quirky, insular, and self-determinism could only happen in a state that can be simultaneously libertarian and repressive. Idaho might be a fun place to visit, but I get the sense the living there might cause even the sanest person to go on a painting spree.
Bottom Line: A Permanent Image is highly recommended and a great value at just $15 (students, seniors, and industry are a mere $12). The play is running at The Storefront Theater (66 E. Randolph) and will be performed Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Parking stinks but the blue line and Metra are great options. To purchase tickets, go to livewirechicago.brownpapertickets.com or call (312) 533-4666. For more theater reviews, go to theaterinchicago.com.
Photos by Austin Oie