Entertainment » Theatre

Hello and Goodbye

by Christine Malcom
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 12, 2015
Hello and Goodbye

Bluebird Arts, a relative newcomer on the Chicago theater scene, closes its 2014-2015 season with an intense, intimate production of Athol Fugard's, "Hello and Goodbye."

An early play, "Hello and Goodbye" is often described as "less political" than Fugard's later works. Indeed, the story of Hester and Johnny, a fractured pair of adult siblings plays out on the minuscule stage of their falling-down childhood home. But both the text and this production, directed by Luda Lopatina Solomon, take to heart the axiom that the personal is political.

In a little less than two hours, and with no real change of scenery, Solomon and her actors bring South Africa and the 1960s in all their gritty glory out of a darkened room and into harsh light. It's a story of the gendered experience of poverty, fear, and opportunity unmade by generations of dysfunction, inside the house and out on the streets of Port Elizabeth.

The space at Prop Thtr is long and narrow, with the audience ascending on risers from the floor-level stage. Carl Ulaszek's set comprises slatted flats that set an appropriately claustrophobic tone, even when the house is in relatively good order. By the end of the second act, when the entire contents of the family's life is strewn across it, the effect is chaotic and devastating. (And kudos to Props Designer Jamie Karas for the specificity and attention to detail in every single case, box and package.)

It's an unfortunate side effect of the theater's layout, though, that the sight lines are quite poor for viewing the stretches of the play that are staged on the floor. The space also seemed to present challenges in terms of lighting and sound.

Brandon Reed and Rick Sims' sound design, early on, complements Ulaszek's set, providing a constant reminder of the noisy, dirty streets just beyond walls that look like they might fall at any minute. Later, though, the volume of the effects doesn't quite compete with the creaking and settling of the stage and the building itself. Similarly, Ulaszek's lighting design is often too slow and subtle to make its mark and effectively signal travel by the characters between memory and the present.

Peculiarities of the space aside, though, the strength of the production rests on powerful, rock solid performances by the cast.

Fear and madness positively roll off Aaron Lawson from the moment the lights come up on him banging an arrhythmic spoon against a glass at the kitchen table. His trepidatious approach to everything from the mail to his sister to his own torn up dreams is so painful that it breaks apart into fleeting moments of absurd, brilliant comedy.

Jaimelyn Gray is equally compelling, bearing the brunt of the play's rapid-fire dialogue. Gray exactly captures the in-between nature of Hester, burdened by more than it should have been possible to accumulate in so few years, and still trapped in the mindset of a child at best neglected, at worst abused.

Moreover, the two are extremely well matched, studying one another carefully as both actors and characters. In what passes for the play's lighter moments, they are entirely believable as long-separated siblings, picking up their squabbles exactly where they last left them.

"Hello and Goodbye" plays through June 6 at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, Chicago. For tickets or information, call 773-570-5477 or visit www.bluebirdarts.org

Christine Malcom is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Roosevelt University and Adjunct Faculty in Liberal Arts and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a physical anthropologist, theater geek, and all-around pop culture enthusiast.


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