Strange Heart Beating muddies the waters | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Strange Heart Beating muddies the waters 

Cloudgate Theatre’s production is too precious and preposterous.

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Courtesy the artist

Atmosphere is everything in Cloudgate Theatre artistic director Kristin Idaszak's new Strange Heart Beating, in which a nameless midwestern town by a nameless lake becomes the disturbed burial ground for a variety of human ills—racism, alcoholism, factory farming, mob vigilantism, climate change, and the mysterious disappearance of many girls. In this heavy-handed production, the Lake (Stephanie Shum, in a fantastic ball gown of nets and weeds) is the first to speak of what she has witnessed—a girl, hands sticky with ice cream, egg-white substance between her legs, deposited in her waters. A loon is dispatched to deliver her soul. (The loons are important. Like the girls, they are never seen.)

This particular girl is Helen, the young daughter of Lena (Leah Raidt), who has grown up in this town where the mayor owns the plant in the next town over, and where the genetically modified turkeys slaughtered by undocumented migrant workers feed the (mostly) white inhabitants in every possible way. Her best friend, Teeny (Jyreika Guest), the sheriff and a Black woman in a white man's town of "outsiders" and folks "from here," is considering possible culprits like Lena's evil ex, when she gets a series of messages from Lake, the loons, and Ramon (Brandon Rodriguez), whose parents were deported during an immigration raid decades earlier. Ramon notices strange happenings all around him, but as he says, "It isn't news when Brown girls go missing." The lighting design, by Kaili Story, is on point. The rest is precious and preposterous.   v

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