Silence | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Silence 

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Silence, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at the Storefront Theater. Moira Buffini's 1999 play about gender, class, and power struggles in medieval England owes a huge debt to Caryl Churchill. But Churchill may prefer not to collect on it given this play's clumsy, obvious forays into snarky anachronism and gender switching.

Buffini's hodgepodge of elements--including a ludicrous druggie interlude with magic mushrooms--adds up to an overly familiar, rather irritating treatise on the shackles of gender roles, the horrors of warfare, the hypocrisy of the church, and the exploitation of servants. After Ymma is forced into marriage with the 14-year-old Lord Silence of Cumbria, she discovers on their wedding night that he is a she, which suits her fine. Then the English king, Ethelred the Unready, decides he'd like a crack at Ymma himself, so she and her child groom/bride flee in a horse cart along with her maidservant, a good-hearted priest, and the lugubrious Eadric, Ethelred's fickle henchman. The overlong second act, in which all the escapees reveal meaningful details of their lives, feels like a 900 AD version of a John Hughes movie.

Jason Loewith's staging for Rivendell brings together a fine team of actors and designers, but his direction fails to enliven Buffini's self-conscious and self-congratulatory dialogue. Jane Baxter Miller plays Ymma with admirable zest, and Rivendell regular Tara Mallen is very fine as Ymma's servant. But overall the ensemble deserves better material than this.

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