Cardboard Boxes | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Cardboard Boxes 

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at Turn Around Theatre.

Cassy Harlo is an actress long recognized as more intelligent than the ditzy-blond roles she's usually assigned. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Cardboard Boxes, three monologues she wrote and performs exploring the relationships between mothers and children. In "My Mama's Been Delayed," an orphan learns the truth about the mother whose photograph she treasures. In "The Guardian Angel," the pregnant teenage daughter of a Mississippi sheriff muses on the future of her baby during the troubled summer of 1957. And in "Mrs. Miravetti's Promise," the mother of a hopelessly deformed infant makes a difficult decision.

In lesser hands this material could easily be bathetic, but Harlo goes beyond stereotype to give each character an intuitive nobility and deep-rooted courage that make us care very much about these waifs bred of other waifs. (Mrs. Miravetti in particular displays an earthy instinct for survival that gives her tale a surprisingly upbeat ending.) Assisted by a bevy of supporting characters, seen on video screens, the effusive Harlo is adept in a variety of dialects (sometimes obscuring her text, but this flaw should disappear as she settles into her roles). She also makes inventive use of the Turn Around Theatre's shallow stage--such as repairing to a stageside pay phone, borrowing money from an audience member, and making a call--and displays an effervescent charm that makes this one-hour show pass far too quickly.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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