Dying Is Private: The Satch and Mo Play/Time & Tide | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dying Is Private: The Satch and Mo Play/Time & Tide 

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Curious Theatre Branch


at At the Gallery-Chopin Theatre

If a playwright is honest, he can be forgiven a lot. A play may be unfocused and awkwardly structured, but a few elements of truth make it worth seeing. On the other hand, some perfectly structured and tautly developed plays can be so dishonest as to seem a maddening waste of time. Beau O'Reilly's Dying Is Private: The Satch and Mo Play lacks a sense of pace, and its plot lurches haltingly from one scene to the next. Yet there's something undeniably affecting about it. Jeff Helgeson's Time & Tide is a crisp, professional bit of play writing, but it really pissed me off.

Dying Is Private, at the Curious Theatre Branch, is a cathartic work about the relationship between art and death. Satch (Colm O'Reilly) is a tortured painter, unable to express emotion about anything except colors and numbers. Mo (Anita Stenger), his roommate and platonic lover, is a motorbiking, picture-snapping, polka-dancing free spirit who longs for the kind of love and companionship Satch seems unable to provide. We watch the relationship between them blossom as they interact with the offbeat individuals they encounter and as they try to comfort each other when, every night, an unseen man coughs ceaselessly over their heads.

Beau O'Reilly effectively conveys Satch and Mo's fear and loneliness as they lie in bed together at night, and contrasts these feelings with their rituals of denial during the day, when Satch is able to channel his anxieties into intellectual wordplay, nervous joking, and his painting. But at night, when all his neurotic armor is stripped away, we see him as he truly is: desperate, lonely, and frightened.

The relationship between Satch and Mo is the most honest, compelling aspect of the play, and watching these two thoroughly believable and original characters interact is what makes Dying Is Private an interesting piece of theater. We can understand their fears. But the play needlessly breaks the dramatic mood by introducing a series of goofball characters who stall the plot with unnecessary comic relief.

DeeDee (Beau O'Reilly in drag), Satch's brother Mordecai (Beau O'Reilly as an irrepressible show-biz ham), Bertie McD. (Beau O'Reilly as a guy Mo picks up in a bar, a street tough who walks around with his pupik showing), and R. Brother Ned (Beau O'Reilly as a straitlaced upright Christian) do little to further the plot and detract from the drama the playwright has worked so hard to create. One wishes O'Reilly had trusted his two main characters and not spent so much time working up original ways to stop the show and shove himself into the limelight.

The play gets a little long, yet we admire Colm O'Reilly's and Stenger's performances as Satch and Mo and can appreciate the many inventive bits of stage and lighting business devised by the Curious Theatre Branch. We can truly praise Beau O'Reilly's writing and the honesty that comes through whenever Satch and Mo are onstage. With a little self-editing, O'Reilly may be able to turn this interesting hit-and-miss work into something shorter and more polished.

Jeff Helgeson's Time & Tide at At the Gallery-Chopin Theatre is a very polished piece of stagecraft, well paced and adequately performed. But to make his point, Helgeson relies on a devious, implausible surprise ending. The play has something worthwhile (if somewhat hackneyed) to say, but it's said so cheekily that I wound up frustrated rather than educated.

The play itself is a walking cliche. The time is World War II, the place is France ("La vie en rose" playing on the radio tells us so). Mireille and Michael are lovers. Michael has brought Mireille chocolate rations and stockings. Michael has to go back to his army unit today, but Mireille is pregnant. She says he should stay with her and hide out. Torn between love and duty, between personal and global goals, Michael and Mireille demonstrate the foolish brutality of war, which tears lovers apart.

Michael and Mireille's dialogue seems lifted from such sources as Casablanca, Romeo and Juliet, and Waiting for Godot. "Our wills are not our own," Michael insists. "There are larger forces that move us." Later Michael tells Mireille that those who wage war are playing "a game of chess with the pieces of our lives." Tears are shed. A final embrace is shared. A couple of anachronistic references to a "new world order" are made to render the play timely.

And then, just before the final blackout, Helgeson introduces his gimmick. The audience gasps as the lights fade and we're forced to address the author's contention that each side in a war thinks its own cause is noble, that we're no different from our enemies. At the same time we realize just how hard the author has been working to conceal Michael's true identity. This is not an honest approach.

All Helgeson has done is trot out a tried-and-true star-crossed lovers' story and put a new uniform on it. It's not enough to sustain an entire play. The whole first hour just sets up the last-minute switcheroo, which does not come close to justifying all the stale universal truths we've had to sit through.

Tom Groenwald directs with assurance. Thomas V. Owen and Chris Seibert play the lovers. The one without an accent is quite good.


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