"The Commons of Pensacola" - Midwest Premiere Launches Northlight Theatre's 40th Anniversary Season

This weekend I had the chance to see a play that I have been anticipating since the 2014-2015 season was announced, The Commons of Pensacola, written by Amanda Peet and directed by Robin Witt, at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. The play is centered around the Thanksgiving gathering of a family very much like the Madoffs.

The play begins with the arrival of Becca (Lusia Strus), daughter of Judith (Linda Kimbrough), the matriarch of the family, and her boyfriend Gabe (Erik Hellman), just as it would seem a hurricane is ready to bear down on Pensacola — where her now disgraced mother lives (post-embezzlement scandal) in a rather sparsely furnished, small condominium to which she has essentially been relegated after her husband (a man very much like Bernard Madoff) stole just about every penny his every client had.

Though things are tense from the beginning, they don’t get any better with the arrival of 16-year-old Lizzy (Leah Karpel), Judith’s granddaughter and Becca’s niece, who has made her way down to her grandmother’s condo — much to the chagrin of her mom who has not wanted anything to do with her own mother since the whole ugly scandal broke — and only go downhill from there during a prolonged period of time in which Lizzy and Becca go missing, their whereabouts unknown and their cell phones left behind.

With Gabe and Judith alone in the house, Gabe makes his pitch to Judith, letting her in on the fact that he (a journalist) and her daughter (an actress) were thinking about working on a documentary together, with Judith as the star. The idea, he tells her, is for her to take control of the narrative, allowing the public to hear her side of the story as well as to get a glimpse of how she lives now, post-scandal, and to reconcile with her husband’s victims, to make something of amends. This despite the fact that she still employs a housekeeper, Lorena (Lily Mojekwu).

Whatever Gabe may have been expecting, Judith is anything but amicable to this idea of theirs, which she makes crystal clear in short order. It seems that from her perspective she, too, was victimized by her husband of more than five decades — she has always maintained she had no clue that he was embezzling his clients’ money and that she, too, was blindsided by the whole affair  — and, as such, she seems to feel that she doesn’t owe the victims anything. Furthermore, she goes on to point the finger at him, accusing him of being dishonest, and in a relationship with her daughter for what amounts to nothing more than his own personal gain. She wants him to have nothing more to do with her daughter and for him to be gone come morning, but before that can happen, she has a medical emergency.

With Judith in the hospital with an unknown medical condition, and therefore unknown prognosis, Judith’s other daughter, Ali (Lori Myers) begrudgingly boards a plane for Pensacola, and upon her arrival to the condo finds out about her mother’s hidden stash of money — an absolutely astonishing amount of euros, packed into a hidden compartment in the freezer — despite Lizzy and Becca’s best efforts to keep their recent discovery a secret until they can figure out what to do.

This, in turn, leads to Ali turning the condo upside down in a quest to find the hidden assets, so that she can report her own mother to federal agents, thus, from her perspective, holding her accountable for what she considers yet another unthinkable betrayal. Becca, meantime, is vehemently against it, pleading with Ali not to turn her in, saying that at 71-years-old, any prison sentence would amount to a life sentence for their mother. While rifling through the condo, Ali also inadvertently ends up revealing evidence that points to Gabe’s own betrayal of Becca, and setting in motion an unexpected chain of events.

On the whole I found The Commons of Pensacola to be a well written, well acted and engaging play that examines some rather important issues and asks some important questions. The Commons of Pensacola runs through October 19, 2014 at Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. For additional information regarding The Commons of Pensacola, special events associated with this production, or for more information regarding Northlight Theatre and the rest of the 2014-2015 season, please visit the Northlight Theatre website.

Production Photos: Michael Brosilow

 

 

 

 

 

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