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a Drama
by Lee Blessing

COMPANY : Chronicle Collective [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Windmill Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5347

SHOWING : September 21, 2018 - September 23, 2018



Kess, a literature professor and (much to the dismay of her mother) a proud lesbian, has returned home to the small town of Independence, Iowa at the desperate plea of her sister, Jo. Between Sherry, their nineteen-year-old sister who is still in high school but has the dating record of a much older woman; Evelyn, their mother and a force of nature as mercurial as they come; and an unexpected pregnancy- Jo needs help.

With equal doses of comedy and tragedy, "Independence" follows these four hurricanes hurtling toward a future some of them want, some of them are afraid of, but all of them know can’t be stopped. Along the way, we learn, as they learn, what Independence means to each of them.

Sherry Kimberly Maxwell
Kess Hannah Pniewski
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A Blessing
by playgoer
Friday, September 28, 2018
An aging, demanding, possibly demented parent deals with three ungrateful daughters. Shakespeare’s "King Lear?" No, this takes place in Iowa. Jane Smiley’s novel "A Thousand Acres?" No, this is a play and the parent is the mother, not the father. Ah, then this is Lee Blessing’s "Independence." Chronicle Collective is presenting it for one weekend at the Windmill Arts Center in East Point.

The set features the projected background of a rural house with a wrap-around porch. The set itself consists of a dining table and four chairs stage left and an angled sofa and Oriental rug stage right. There are no doors in the set (even though one of the lines in the play is "help me with the door"). The outside entry to the house is from audience left, the kitchen is up left, and bedrooms are up right (with unfortunate shadows of people waiting to make an entrance there during scene changes).

Director Cathy Reinking has blocked the show to make these exit and entry points clear and to keep the action flowing. One interesting choice is to have one character’s back to the audience as a game of Scrabble is being played. Given the high rise of the auditorium seats, that’s probably a good idea, to keep audience members from seeing that the tiles being played don’t match what the script says they are.

The play lets the family secrets out slowly. We first see the oldest daughter, Kess (Hannah Pniewski), returning home after a few years away, coming at the request of middle daughter Jo (Alicia Kelly), eight years her junior. A lot of the subsequent exposition comes from Sherry (Kimberly Maxwell), a 19-year-old high school student who is the youngest of the family, before we meet their mother Evelyn (Lucia Scarano). We learn bits and pieces of the family dynamic as the conversation flows, and it becomes clearer and clearer that the mother has created a toxic environment for all involved. There’s no happy resolution bringing the family together; at the end, all achieve a measure of independence.

Ms. Reinking has molded the actresses into a believable ensemble. Ms. Scarano is alternately loving and vengeful as the mother, while Ms. Maxwell makes Sherry consistently blithe and cynical and sunny. Ms. Kelly pulls the heartstrings as the middle daughter who feels responsible for the well-being of all the rest, and Ms. Pniewski adds a rational perspective that acts as a counterbalance to the more wacky elements present in the family. All are excellent. My only reservation is that Ms. Maxwell’s projection isn’t always strong enough to reach the ears of all audience members.

"Independence" has its fair share of humor, but most of the humor comes from the way the characters express pain of one sort or another. This is a sobering play, if not a somber one. The uncredited technical elements (sound, lighting, costumes, props, set) all support the flow of the show, giving it a sense of reality that is only bolstered by the fine acting on display. This is a fine production of a little-known, but intriguing script. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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