OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Eclipse Theatre's 'Woman in Mind' green envy fun

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-04-16T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Eclipse Theatre's 'Woman in Mind' green envy funBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

There's a fine stage production for any person who has ever had a fleeting moment of emotion, prompting the thought: "What if I had a different family?"

And, if you've never had such a thought cross your mind, this play is still a great way for both discussion and entertainment.

"Woman in Mind" written by Alan Ayckbourn, debuted in 1985 in London and then a New York premiere in 1988 with actress Stockard Channing in the lead.

For this Chicago run, excellently produced by Eclipse Theatre Company at Athenaeum Theatre now until May 19, it's the talented and believable Sally Eames in the lead role of Susan, who finds herself in an "Alice in Wonderland" sort of false family reality.

This intimate theater experience transports the audience to a lush green grass lawn, where the story unfolds. (The scenic design by Chris Corwin captures the landscape picture-perfect, and inspired me to even later touch the thick faux grass when I walked past the stage.)

The play opens with Susan having been knocked unconscious in her yard and struggling to regain her thoughts and composure, as she is tended to by a concerned doctor played by Larry Baldacci.

What purposely remains unclear to all, both audience and the characters, is the true backstory for Susan. As the scenes share more and more details, Susan finds confusion about whether her life is a bleak tale or a bounty of privleged bliss.

Is she in an unhappy marriage to hubby Gerald, played by Ted Hoeri, with the disinterest of their son Rick, played by Jack Miggins and unhappy confrontation with her live-in sister-in-law Muriel (played by Jeannie Affelder) and her horrid cooking?

Or is her true life one of a perfect scenario with a handsome and loving husband named Andy, played by charming James Houton and a caring and confiding daughter as played by Jess Berry and the silly antics of her dashing brother Tony, played by Theatre at the Center actor favorite Phil Higgins, and his ever present tennis whites and champagne bucket?

While her dual life scenarios are contrasted by "affluent versus moderate" means, the descriptions are wonderfully vivid by the playwright, allowing the audience to also visualize rose gardens, a lake and tennis courts just across the lawn, all features of an English country estate, which might or might not exist, depending on the state of lead character Susan's mind at the moment.

Directed with precision by Eclipse Theatre Company ensemble member Steve Scott, by the second act, it's easy to cheer for Susan to find her true station in life.

Actress Sally Eames has the gift of sincerity and it's easy for any audience member to balance on her every word for this convincing performance for this 2-hour "Jeff Recommended" production.

Tickets are $28 at (773) 935-6875 or eclipsetheatre.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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