Relative Strangers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Relative Strangers 

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Magic If Productions, at the Theatre Building.

David is HIV positive. Marie, his doting mother, and Ben, his doting lover, initially quarrel over who will nurse him in his final days, but as David's condition worsens his caretakers discover how much they have in common beyond their shared sorrow and frustration. As they bond, we see flashbacks from David's childhood that reveal how his past prepared him for his sorry fate.

The complete lack of action, the hyperemotional dialogue, and the relentlessly shallow characters--in particular immature, ineffectual David, whom Marie and Ben squabble over like children over a toy--all expose Burgess Clark's Relative Strangers to be better suited to television than to the stage. Director John McCrite further emphasizes the video ambience by instructing his actors to telegraph their motives so obviously that every subsequent action is entirely predictable. And, whenever possible, he positions the actors close together in face-to-face confrontation or tragic-visaged tableaux--that's right, as if they were already framed by the camera lens. Even the set and costumes are designed to translate easily to a soundstage.

Diane Houghton and Peter Toran give some humor and humanity to their roles: monstrous Marie and princely Ben. But despite their heroic efforts, Relative Strangers remains the sort of play to which audiences are advised to bring hankies--if not for swabbing tears, then for muffling snores.


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