Chicago Theater Review: HER AMERICA (Greenhouse Theater Center)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 12, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


It’s not easy for actors to lose control without losing the role as well. A master of concentrated dread and systematic despair, Kate Buddeke haunts this solo show. She completely controls it too. Her America, a drama by Chicago writer Brett Neveu that’s part of Greenhouse Theater Center’s “Solo Celebration,” is all about literal dead ends. In this congealed one-act, Buddeke creates and destroys Lori, a middle-aged survivor in a Midwestern basement who’s reached a dead reckoning.  Superbly shaped by director Linda Gillum, the ugly and abrasive results prove just how much “her America” impinges on our own.

As always with dramatic monologues, the question “Why is she telling us all this?” is too disbelief-suspending to be posed. It’s a given: Lori seeks shelter in this cluttered cellar (a hoarders’ pigpen industriously assembled by Grant Sabin). She’s ostensibly escaping a barking dog in the house above. As she turns on the bare bulbs and connects with her personal “props” (including, finally, a seminal wedding dress), Buddeke’s lost lady pieces together a broken dream. She fills us in on just what’s gone: Mute objects trigger burning memories that will drag her–and us–to a terrible final revelation in a (center-stage) steamer trunk. (It’s not to be divulged.)

Lori’s “America” is a familiar failure. Her reclamation effort is doomed to disappointment. Here patriotism manifests itself in the “red, white and blue flames” that she imagines match the same beer label in a 4th of July cookout. She wonders about a world where American jobs have been rushed to Mexico, yet illegal immigrants keep streaming here to grab more. (How can it work both ways?) Anyway, “things change.”

Reflecting on a life she hopes has “more good parts than bad parts,” she describes the trouble with men that has literally sent her to the bottom. We hear about her oppressively religious husband Dan and a charming high school friend named Lonnie who messed up their marriage. Amid her roaring streams of consciousness, Lori seeks solace from her “darkness inside” in a hallucination of Jesus warming her heart—until it becomes a hellish roast. Recollections cascade–guys’ games of “ghosts in the graveyard,” her fierce and wax-like grandma Frances, and a high school girl who went to sleep in chemistry class and never woke up.

Buddeke takes Lori down—into the one literally low-down regret that she can’t confess. It ultimately explains why we’re in this literal and figurative depth. Appalling as it is, it’s hard to imagine any secret sin that could retroactively explain Lori’s losses. This horror will do as well as another.

It’s how Buddeke conveys Lori’s jilted downstairs desperation that delivers the (ill) goods. An ugly act sets a very ordinary woman far apart. But “her America” is not so easily dismissed. After 70 minutes Lori shares it all too well.

photos by Evan Hanover

Her America
part of Solo Celebration!
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
ends on February 12, 2017
for tickets, call 773.404.7336 or visit Greenhouse

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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