In Harmes' Way | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

In Harmes' Way 

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In Harmes' Way, Bailiwick Repertory. Like Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9, Landon Coleman's script deconstructs social and gender roles through the familiar device of having the cast take turns playing each of four characters, including the minor role of a nurse. In this understated drama, a dissertation adviser visits a middle-aged PhD candidate to award her a doctorate. But her mind has been ravaged by HIV-suppressing drugs, reality has taken a backseat to her graduate course work, and the student now believes that she's James Buchanan. Meanwhile her partner, humoring his ailing wife, has accepted the Sisyphean task of erecting a monument to Buchanan's triumphs, laying bricks in the morning and disassembling them every night. The professor disrupts this carefully controlled environment, challenging the brash young mason to discover who has expressed the greater love for the student, the mutual object of their unwavering affections.

Coleman's gender-bending scenario allows for some interesting moments, including a few well-choreographed scenes in which the lights dim and the actors trade costumes onstage. But Coleman's nongender-specific dialogue--characters are referred to interchangeably as "him" and "her"--also causes the actors some sticky problems, especially in maintaining the characters' consistency once they trade roles. Though Bailiwick's production is well acted, Coleman's gimmick feels like an embellishment, diverting attention from a work that would otherwise have held its own. --Nick Green


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