The Ballad of the Sad Cafe | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe 

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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Footsteps Theatre. Bringing Carson McCullers's twisted fairy tale to the stage seems mostly to have entailed slowing it down. Edward Albee's capable but somewhat didactic adaptation adds circumlocutory dialogue and some superfluous narration to create the laggard atmosphere of a southern mill town--an Our Town turned inside out, where "nothing ever happens." Director Dale Heinen sets a drawling pace and adds an unnecessary 15-minute intermission--which Albee's directions specifically eschew--further slowing the story.

When the Footsteps actors are up to the task, Heinen's approach creates an atmosphere rich with portents of doom, aided greatly by Todd Reemtsma's stunning rendition of Miss Amelia Evans's sad cafe, which she opens to win the love of the hunchbacked dwarf Lymon. He abuses her affection, however; as played by twinkly-eyed Vincent Lonergan, the character is frighteningly grotesque. And as Marvin Macy, the ex-con who reforms to win Amelia's love and is consistently rebuffed, Andy Rothenberg delivers an electric performance. Whenever he's onstage with Lonergan or Ron Wells (who plays the decent but somewhat slow-witted Henry Macy), Albee's misanthropic take on McCullers's humanistic vision is searing.

But Sandy Borglum as Miss Amelia doesn't convince; often she seems to imitate power rather than embody it. And the inconsistent accents and two-dimensional portrayals of illiterate town folk by several supporting actors further bog down the play. It may seem to Albee and McCullers that nothing exists in this Georgia town but heat and silence. But it shouldn't seem that way to the audience.

--Adam Langer

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