The setting is a storefront butcher shop in Germany in 1975.
It serves as an ideal surroundings, cold and lifeless, for the tale by F. X. Kroetz, titled "Through the Leaves," now at the side project theatre, about a would-be romance between two struggling souls who have reached middle age without a mate.
Martha, played in a perfect performance by actress Laurie Larson, owns a butcher shop left to her by her parents. She is the sole proprietor and the lone employee of what is a very successful business that affords her comfort and security.
The only other character (besides Martha's unseen, but heard, barking dog) in this hour-long, no intermission play is Otto, a blue-collar work with an unhappy life sentiment who is a frequent visitor to Martha's shop. Played with a mix of morose pleasure and spite by actor H.B. Ward, he is envious of Martha's success and happy position (and disposition) in life.
For Martha, the cup is always half-full, while Otto sees the glass more than half empty.
Written in 1976, the play is directed with fine precision by Andy Hager. It closes on Sunday, Feb. 2 and it is a must see ticket that is a perfect subject for the cold days of January. This work was first produced for Off-Broadway in 1984 and then enjoyed a critically successful run in London's West End in 2003 starring Simon Callow.
This month's staging by the side project offers an award-worthy set and scenery designed by Carolyn Voss and props that are amazingly real and fascinating focal points as crafted by Paige Keedy.
The longing, hurt yet hopeful glances from Larson as Martha from her wide, pie-eyed stare are equally matched by the expression of regret and anger hidden behind the eye's of actor Ward's Otto.
There are moments during this story that are awkward and uneasy to witness because of the unspoken tension between the couple to desperately cling to what appears to be a withering relationship. This is true and believable acting at its best.
Tickets for "Through the Leaves" are $15 to $20 at (773) 340-0140 or thesideproject.net. This intimate 29-seat storefront theater is located at 1439 West Jarvis St. on Chicago's northside.