Theater Review: MIDSUMMER [A PLAY WITH SONGS] (Greenhouse Theatre Center)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 8, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


“Love will break your heart; sometimes you want it to.” That curious contradiction is the opening shot in MIDSUMMER (A Play with Songs). This theatrical roller coaster merrily chronicles a weekend “stand” in Edinburgh between convulsively disparate thirtysomething partners, a quirky encounter that may indeed have a future.

Now in a suitably jaunty and precisely passionate Midwest premiere at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center (in a co-production with Proxy Theatre), this clever 2009 romp by two Scottish wonders — writer Davis Grieg and indie-composer Gordo McIntyre — is an infectious delight. It’s bittersweet in all the right places and, best of all, showcases to the skies two of Chicago’s sharpest performers: Chaon Cross and Patrick Mulvey. Randy White’s wizard staging captures the rapid wit, pell-mell pace, and surprising depths of this 95-minute tour d’amour.

Though native to Edinburgh, these improbable lovers — proverbial opposites who attract — have traveled a great deal of emotional distance to meet cute. Helena (the incandescently charismatic Cross) is a divorce lawyer “at a loose end,” insecure about looming spinsterhood and who may or may not be pregnant. She’s so tired of being a bridesmaid seven times that she will later sabotage, accidentally on purpose, her sister’s fashionable wedding.

35 and fearing that he “peaked in 1987,” Bob (a cannily comic Mulvey) should be kryptonite for Helena. Divorced with a secret son, this lovable lout has always been “medium” in the worst way. Now he’s a clumsy criminal fencing stolen cars for oafish Scottish mobsters who have him in their sights. Talking to his cock, he promises better times but refuses to be cowed by his cravings.

For both drifters life seems a game that melds risk with patience. Alternately resisting or conceding the power of instinct and intuition, it means contending with cards that were dealt before you could change the hand. They may be mired in mid-life, but their crises couldn’t be more opposed. Nonetheless, the overriding wisdom of this narrative suggests they just may be each other’s solution. A little shagging doesn’t hurt either.

Narrating from very different perspective their seminal sexual starts and stops (there’s no fourth wall here!), Helena and Bob detail their hilarious meet-up — on the shortest night of the year — at Whigham’s Wine Cellar during a days-long rainstorm. Their convoluted “origins story” involves separate sagas too — Helena’s disastrous disruption of a wedding and Bob’s flight from thugs who want the 15,000 pounds he’s purloined.

Traversing Edinburgh from her Marchmont home through Constitution and Prince’s Garden Streets and finally to the mount of Arthur’s Seat that commands the capital, they end up desperately running from assorted threats, finally to be literally tangled up in a Japanese rope bondage. It’s one of many hysterical complications which H. and B. energetically belt out in folk-pop ballads, doggedly accompanying themselves on five instruments, including guitars and keyboard. Along the dotty way, they also share sardonic comments about the latitudes and longitudes of love and whether, as a parking meter prompts, “Change is possible.”

It is.

Midsummer culminates in a very satisfying ending, the perfect outcome for this manic obstacle course and for these decent if desperate dreamers. Capitalizing on Grieg and McIntyre’s inspired script and score (and Jeremy Gentry’s musical direction), the genius Cross/Mulvey duo depict Helena and Bob from the inside out, as well as a rogue’s gallery of 14 Scottish denizens. All these artists have seized on a memory to make us care more than we could ever imagine.

photos by Michael Brosilow

MIDSUMMER (A Play with Songs)
The Greenhouse Theater Center and Proxy Theatre
Downstairs Main Stage, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Wed at 7:30; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on October 6, 2019
for tickets, call 773.404.7336 or visit Greenhouse

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