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Graceland

Chicago Sun-Times
May 30, 2009
BY HEDY WEISS

"Graceland," the wonderfully wise and rueful new play by Ellen Fairey -- now in a funny, touching, gracefully tuned world premiere at Profiles Theatre -- is about love and loneliness. And, as its cemetery-inspired title suggests, it also is about death -- in the form of the lost innocence that comes in adolescence, the slow recognition of fading possibility in middle age or the actual moment when everything just ends.

That's quite a lot to deal with in a rapid-fire 90-minute play. But Fairey, the Chicago-based writer best known for "Girl, 20," is quite the elegant and poetic minimalist -- a decidedly feminine countervoice to Neil LaBute, whose work has long been championed by Profiles. Fairey's thoughts run deep, but she possesses a deft shorthand that lets her get right to the heart of the matter. And it is the heart that ultimately is the object of her obsession.

Sara (Brenda Barrie), a beautiful, unmarried 40-year-old who works in New York, has returned to Chicago to bury her father, a troubled man with a drinking problem. Though shattered by her father's death, she can't get much emotional response from her brother Sam (Eric Burgher), a chronic underachiever whose girlfriend Anna (Somer Benson) recently left him in a disturbing way.

After the funeral, Sara, who has her own streak of quiet desperation, heads to a bar with her brother and then proceeds to go home with a stranger, Joe (Darrell W. Cox), a divorced, middle-age man who, it turns out, has a teenage son, Miles (Jackson Challinor). A boy of preternatural charm, insight and loneliness, with all the worshipful romantic energy that comes with the rush of hormones -- and a youthful cocktail of knowledge and inexperience -- he sees Sara as a goddess. He also becomes a brief but uncanny soul mate, teaching her how to breathe in synchrony, just like the roaring Blue Demons who are flying overhead.

To be clear: There is nothing salacious or creepy about any of this. Instead, it is beguiling and true and, under Matthew Miller's pitch-perfect direction, exquisitely played.

Barrie, a petite blond with a most intriguing face and emotions that run deep, made a huge impression as the star of Lifeline's "Mariette in Ecstasy" earlier this season, and her beautifully modulated work here only confirms her enormous talent. Her chemistry with Challinor -- beguiling in his youthful beauty, and blend of boyish energy and willed calm -- is ideal. Looks like another long run for Profiles.

 

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