| Chicago Reader

Spinning Into Blue 


Victory Gardens Theater

Though they're trapped in their youth, falcons never become fully domesticated, and once a bird is set free from the guy line on which it has been trained, it's never a sure bet to return, even though the falconer has spent months training the bird to do just that. The falconer has to rely on faith, in the training and in the bird.

Sally Nemeth's Spinning Into Blue, premiering at Victory Gardens Theater, is full of such falcon lore/symbolism. Much of it is presented via straightforward monologues between scenes, during which various characters discourse on the habits, training, and instincts of predatory birds. These speeches offer a range of observations, from fascinating but irrelevant facts (the United States officially considered all birds of prey "vermin" until the 40s) to heavy-handed symbolism based on the trainer's relationship to the bird. The script tends to totter under the weight of these overburdened monologues and of its overloaded plot. Director Sandy Shinner manages to tuck it all into a graceful, understated production; it is to her credit that none of the loose ends are glaring, but they're there nonetheless.

Lurline (Annabel Armour) lives alone on a piece of wilderness property in Alabama that was left to her and her brother Gordon (Joe D. Lauck). There she trains falcons and takes in a series of runaway boys, all of whom she eventually has to give up; the boys to social services, the falcons to the wild. Meanwhile she waits irrationally for the return of her own child, whom she was forced to give up long ago.

Gordon--who has a wife, two daughters, and a pile of debts--plans to sell the property, but Lurline plans to offer it to the State Wildlife Commission, with the proviso that she be allowed to stay on the land. This conflict is complicated by Lurline's love affair with a pleasant young conservation officer (Thomas Greene); by the attraction between Gordon's teenage daughter, Corinne (Becky Wahlstrom), and Lurline's current runaway, Topeka (Mark Alan Walker); and by Lurline's strained relationship with Gordon's acerbic wife (Linda Kimbrough). Add to all this Topeka's masquerade as Lurline's son, Corinne's sexual awakening, and a disputed deed to the property, and you have quite a lot on your plate. Much of it is abandoned, however, when there's a late-breaking confrontation between brother and sister concerning a long-ago would-be abortion Gordon righteously thwarted. Once that particular conflict has been properly aired, it seems to resolve itself rather quickly, and the other problems simply peter out haphazardly.

Shinner has assembled an altogether appealing and talented cast as the bedrock for Nemeth's messy but lyrical script. Armour offers a glimpse of vulnerability in her otherwise capable, entirely likable Lurline. Lauck's Gordon is rather sweet even in the midst of battle, Kimbrough does a fine job as his resigned and peppery wife, and Greene makes a very attractive and intelligent lover for Lurline. Wahlstrom and Walker, as the hormone-driven teens, are engaging and natural in their horseplay.

Jeff Bauer's set, with its multilevel slatted platforms and perches for the actors, evokes a giant bird cage without belaboring the point--a temptation the playwright could not seem to resist. If she had spent less time pointing out the similarities between a peregrine and a runaway there would have been more time for relationships to evolve and conflicts to be settled. This carefully realized production is not at all unpleasant; slow, gentle, and somewhat solemn, it simply does its best by a script that is not nearly as disciplined.

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