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For the past six summers, Arc Theatre Company has entertained audiences in south Evanston with free Shakespeare plays outdoors at Ridgeville Park. Shakespeare on the Ridge marked the theater company’s debut with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 2010. The company has grown and become mature in Evanston, and earlier this month made the relationship with the City permanent, officially relocating to Evanston to debut artistic director Mark Boergers’ family drama, “The Things We Keep” at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St.
Mr. Boergers has been the adapting pen behind all six Shakespeare productions, editing each play down to about 90 minutes to fit the outdoor, festival-type setting. His original work, debuting under the guidance of regular cast member and company associate Natalie Sailee, had its first public performance on Feb. 4.
The play highlights the company’s focus on archetypal characters – thus the name “Arc.” Jumping back in time spanning several decades in Buffalo, N.Y., the play has only four characters – an ultimately deceased aunt, the reading of whose will opens the action, and her two nephews and one niece who for complicated reasons is more of an adopted daughter.
Company newcomer Kirsten D’Aurelio plays the aunt, a widow semi-famous collage artist whose attic is the lone setting in the play. Ms. D’Aurelio captures the spirit of the emotionally domineering aunt, a character with influence and power extending beyond the grave. Her eccentricity set just below the surface of an outwardly loving exterior brings a depth and range to a difficult role.
Speaking of range, company founder Teddy Boone – whose comic timing and delivery make him a Shakespeare on the Ridge fan favorite – steps well outside his usual role playing Rob. His character is emotionally troubled, serious, and almost completely devoid of humor. Mr. Boone somehow pulls off a melancholy and often monotonic character yet displays an emotionally jittery personality. Almost all the turmoil rages beneath the surface of such simple and limited lines as, “I stayed.”
Company regular Joe Flynn, most recently Macbeth himself, plays the comic foil, a role he handles very well. Arc knows comedy, and has always done it very well. Mr. Flynn’s everyman looks and comic timing bring his character Tom to life. Tom is the type of happy, limited guy we encounter all the time, and like Mr. Boone, Mr. Flynn manages to reveal his character through the simplest of lines. His “OK,” delivered several times in the first act, is both amusing and character defining.
Arc newcomer Adrienne Matzen plays the niece-daughter, and serves as the romantic iconic family member who fled to California, leaving emotional destruction in her wake. Ms. Matzen handles the transition between ages – she is as young as about ten in some scenes, and more like fifty when introduced – works.
The play is emotionally wrenching as it builds toward an unclear conclusion. Mr. Boergers has a grasp of character development and knows these actors and his company well. Ms. Sailee, in her main stage directing debut, also knows these actors and her playwright very well, having worked with Mr. Booth and Mr. Flynn for years.
The result is not a happy or light play, but instead an emotionally wrenching journey through the depths of dysfunction and despair. No one should go expecting to be uplifted. But those who enjoy finely acted windows into family corruption as decisions and influences spiral into irredeemable depths, should by all means support one of Evanston’s favorite theater companies, and one that now officially calls Evanston home.
Mr. Boergers, who alo opened a play in Milwaukee on Feb. 5, said, “We’re thrilled to be in Evanston.” Ms. Sailee echoed the sentiment, saying the vision of Arc fits into Evanston.
Mr. Boone also said he was elated to call Evanston home.
“The Things We Keep” runs Thur.-Sun. through Feb. 28 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. Arc Theatre will return to Ridgeville for Shakespeare on the Ridge this summer with “As You Like It.”