Imagine: After years of blissful content, you one day acquire a piece of information that poisons everything you once believed. And not only is that happiness stripped away from you quite suddenly, but your previous experiences with it are now null and void.
Calls to Blood, the compact, raw drama playing at the even more compact Royal George Studio*, explores this agonizing realization. And, as was the case with last season’s Tupperware: An American Musical Fable, The New Colony has proven yet again that they have the resources and talent to produce compelling new works with sensitivity, emotional heft and a good dose of well-placed humor.
The cast, led by director Andrew Hobgood, is very well-suited to the material, particularly Sarah Gitenstein as Alison — wife of the ill-fated happy couple. Along with her husband Jacob, played by the puppy-dog faced Gary Tiedemann, Gitenstein spends the bulk of the play in deep emotional turmoil upon the realization that their quest to have a perfect marriage complete with children is impossible, and she’s simply heartbreaking. Her extremely challenging scene where she realizes the truth of her relationship with Jacob is masterfully played.
(I’m purposefully not revealing too much about the plot, as it’s to your benefit not knowing the details beforehand.)
I must also single out Mary Hollis Inboden as Alison’s best friend Suellen, as she can simply do no wrong. She proved herself a powerhouse little musical comedy actress in Tupperware, and here she’s a wise-cracking single woman, with comedic timing that rivals Megan Mullally’s. The much-needed humor in the piece is mostly driven by her delivery. Evan Linder, as the perpetually single Kirk and Jacob’s best drinking buddy, is a perfectly matched scene partner for Inboden.
The straightforward script by James Asmus keeps things engaging, without sensationalizing the subject matter. (Before the show began, Hobgood noted that the inspiration for the play come from a true story close to Asmus’ heart, whatever that might mean.) However, I will say that with a less-capable cast and director, this show could easily creep into Lifetime Movie material — especially the final scene between Jacob and Alison. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Sensitivity and honesty are kept top-of-mind.
(*If you want to see the show without an obstructed view, particularly scenes where the actors sit, choose a seat at the back on the risers or in the very front. Otherwise, it’s a game of “peering through heads,” and it’s not a very fun one.)
“Calls to Blood” plays through November 7 at the Royal George Studio Theatre, 1641 N Halsted St., Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit thenewcolongy.org
Gary Tiedemann and Sarah Gitenstein in “Calls to Blood”
Photo Credit: Anne Petersen