Not One Batu feels torn directly from life | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Not One Batu feels torn directly from life 

The goal, as with all Nothing Without a Company performances, is total immersion.

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MATTHEW GREGORY HOLLIs

The word batu in the title of Hannah Ii-Epstein's powerful play is a slang term in Hawaiian drug culture for methamphetamine (it comes from the Tagalog word for "rock" or "stone"). The title also is a nonsexual double entendre—meaning both giving up meth entirely and indulging in two hits of meth (not one, but two)—that connects to the show's central conflict: Honey Girl, a former meth addict trying to keep clean in a subculture where everyone she knows is a user (even her mother) so she can keep custody of her kid, continues to deal meth to supplement her meager income.

Ii-Epstein, a former addict turned playwright (and coartistic director of Nothing Without a Company), knows well the world she describes. Her dialogue is peppered heavily with Hawaiian pidgin English and drug slang, and her characters feel ripped from life. This quality is accentuated by the raw, moving performances director Rachel Slavick coaxes from her ensemble, led by Marie Tredway's subtle but compelling take on Honey Girl.

The piece, staged by Nothing Without a Company at the Berger Park Cultural Center Coach House, begins with nearly an hour of environmental theater, a staged party at which the audience members mingle, willingly or not, with the characters from the play, followed by a more traditional theatrical performance. Environmental theater is this company's thing. And the party is fun and relaxing—beer is for sale, and there are card games and live music—but, honestly, the power of Ii-Epstein's fine play wouldn't be diminished one iota if the party were cut.   v

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