Chicago Theater Review: FIVE MILE LAKE (Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 15, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Plays about what doesn’t happen feel a lot trickier than the action models: Exhibit A (through Z) is Rachel Bonds’ Five Mile Lake, a group portrait of five twenty-somethings held back even in motion. (One calls it “treading water,” which of course fits the title.)

It’s no accident that in Shattered Globe Theatre’s Chicago premiere at Theater Wit, set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec has exactly copied Edward Hopper’s slanting, silent street in Early Sunday Morning, significantly minus the dawning sunlight on the row of empty storefronts.

Like its street, this desolate town near Scranton, PA is definitely sliding. To spend two decades in this dreary dump takes a toll which Five Mile Lake measures sadly well. A very unbusy coffeehouse and a very isolated lake house are the settings. Here two pairs of siblings and two pairs of lovers renew old bonds and break new ones. Ironically, in director Cody Estle’s character study, the graduates who got away seem no freer than the cohorts they left behind. Recalling Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia, this one-act questions how much changes make a difference when hard habits have sunk in big time.

Former classmates stuck in a claustrophobic town, Jamie (Steve Peebles) and Mary (Daniela Colucci) work in a donut shop and feed the stray cats in the alley. Besides watching hockey on TV, Jamie’s saving distraction is to rehab the family home on a large frozen lake. In love with make believe, Mary is desperate to get out. But she’s trapped here because of her unstable brother Danny (Drew Schad), an Afghanistan vet suffering from PTSD and unable to hold down a job.

Setting them off (in every sense) is the arrival of a couple on the skids: These are their childhood chum Rufus (Joseph Wiens), Jamie’s older brother and a Ph.D. candidate with writer’s block, and his British girlfriend Peta (Aila Peck), a sad soul who’s both homesick and sick of home. On a moonlit night Peta finds temporary solace with the much more sympathetic Jamie, while Mary imagines a happy escape to Philadelphia with a still-adoring Rufus.

It’s clear here that happiness, like greener pastures, is painfully relative. You can take the small town out of the inhabitants but, well, you know the rest. No question, Bonds’ bittersweet revelations and tiny epiphanies will strike even urban audiences as cautionary truth and survival wisdom.

Aching with quiet winter desperation, Estle’s slow and steady staging of Bonds’ undramatic but evocative encounters rings true. All five performances honor the characters’ very diverse dead ends and self-defeating “best choices.” No laugh riot for millennial escapists, Five Mile Lake is too honest to indulge in false nostalgia. And it sure knows how old friends repeat the wrong feelings and siblings turn their unshared pasts into psychic weapons. In these 90 minutes expect no shocks of the unknown.

photos by Evan Hanover

Five Mile Lake
Shattered Globe Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3 (Sat matinee on 2/24)
ends on February 24, 2018
for tickets call 773.975.8150 or visit Theater Wit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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