Sideshow's MARIA/STUART Offers Pleasure Through Dysfunction

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REVIEWED BY; JOSEPH HILLENMEYER

In Sideshow Theatre Company’s production of Jason Gote’s dark comedy Maria/Stuart we have the pleasure of sitting in on the wonderfully dysfunctional family of sisters Lizzie, Sylvia and Marnie as they host a birthday party for their mother, Ruthie. Lizzie’s daughter Hannah is also invited as is Marnie’s son Stuart – although he is preoccupied by his recent purchase of the rights to a decades-old

and unsuccessful superhero comic known as American Male. He is, by the way, aware – and the women won’t let him forget – that his super hero sounds very much like a gay men’s fashion magazine, but he rests assured American Male is due for a revival.

Nate Weldon does an amazing job of presenting Stuart not only as the high school nerd that never grew up, but also conveying the character’s buried anxiety and frustration that build the foundation for much of the play’s darker elements.

Each sister also has her own recognizable personality: the foul-mouthed Lizzie, passive-aggressive Marnie and certifiably insane Syliva, who also has two hook hands after laying down on the railroad tracks. All three sisters are played to perfection by Mary Anne Bowan, Jennifer Joan Taylor and Ann James respectively and in the first act it was rare any went a few lines without drawing strong laughter form the audience as they berate each other, their ex-lovers and their mother.

However, mother can dish it out as well as she takes it and Ruthie (Susan Monts-Bologna) was simply perfect as the somewhat senile, but quick-witted matriarch of the family. The family’s cynicism, sarcasm and humor work well to hide their deeper and darker secrets, creating a dysfunction that is funny, harmless and probably recognizable to many who have gathered around the family table. That is until a shape-shifting apparition appears and drops off a pink letter that will force the family to face its most painful secrets.

When you hear apparition, though, don’t think Jacob Marely’s ghost. Imagine a changeling played by almost all members of the cast that rambles in German and has a nearly unquenchable thirst for soda-pop, which it dumps in its mouth by the liter.

The play is well-paced but also very unpredictable as a few minutes of continual laughter can suddenly lead to a horrific revelation by the characters that force the audience to stifle its giddiness.

However, the next laugh is never far off, especially after Mont-Bologna takes on the role of Spanish Mary – one of the changeling’s numerous names – full time, begging the family to face the skeletons in its closet.

For those wondering, there are some some plot parallels to Fredrick Schiller’s Mary Stuart, especially surrounding the consequences of the lies we tell (and write down) and some comical ones, such as a bust of Friedrich Schiller hiding one of the family’s most unspeakable secrets. Maria/Stuart, however, is certainly much more than a fresh take on the story of The Queen of Scots and a show that should not be missed.

Sideshow’s MARIA/STUART plays through May 5 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago. Tickets run from $20-25 and are available through www.sideshowtheatre.org or by calling the Theater Wit box office at (773) 975-8150. For calendar information, please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com