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Theater Wed Oct 10 2012

Live Wire Chicago's The Mistakes Madeline Made

Madeline-1.jpg

(left to right) Joel Ewing and Hilary Williams in LiveWire Chicago Theatre's production of The Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether, directed by Krista D'Agostino. Photo by Ryan Bourque.

Thirty-nine minutes into The Mistakes Madeline Made, and I began to think that maybe I'd been hoodwinked into some sarcastic staged version of writer Elizabeth Meriwether's hit FOX TV series "New Girl", which as with the beginnings of TMMM, is funny and sharp, but a big ol' ball of popcorn for the 5-Hour Energy generation. And I can fold laundry as I watch it, something I can't do in a theater.

And then, the roof fell in. Madeline peels the dirt off to reveal its true grime underneath its superficial dirt.

Edna (Hilary Williams) is hired on as junior personal assistant to Beth (Kristin Collins) to tend to the needs of a very wealthy and very pampered six-year old boy, Josh. The pay is good, the work environment pristinely clean and organized - even boss Beth holds it all in, whatever "it" is, keeping duty and emotions in debri-free and hidden away during the workday. The only concerns are meeting the needs and wants of the unseen Josh, making certain than he gets the right shoes and the right handiwipes, his sensitive skin can only tolerate one brand, which must be special ordered and available for use every day at 2:35pm, when Edna goes home to find her brother Buddy (Joel Ewing) camped out in her bathtub. Edna tells him that he smells like garbage -- his body odor almost unbearable. Buddy has been gone a long time, and Edna embraces him through the stench of his flesh, holding onto Buddy for life until Buddy pries her loose and sends Edna on her way to the sterile environs of her employer and the hyper-restrained order and duty of supervisor Beth.

Work is hell for Edna, with Beth applying cleanliness, alignment and order to every nook and cranny of the office and the supplies needed to take care of Josh's every need, two minutes before Josh needs it. As Beth bathes in the glow of the most benign acknowledgements from Josh's mother Judith, it becomes apparent to Beth that something smells, and the smell - first a waft of mustiness, building up to an overwhelming stench, Beth benignly attempts to avoid the collision course that is Edna's stench versus Beth's perfect office setting.

The smell of Edna grows, and every evening she returns home to meet Buddy in the bathtub. As she begs him to bathe, reminds him how horrid he smells, he begs her to leave him be, to continue with work and school, to find a real boyfriend, other than street-poets and bar hookups (Fred Geyer). Edna returns to her office each day, bonding with Wilson (Chris Zdenek), her OCD/man-child co-worker, who helps Edna upset the delicate balance that Beth has spent years and gone through several assistants bringing to delicate perfection by stealing the lone case of Josh's much needed specialty handiwipes.

Edna wants Buddy to leave the bathtub and the bathroom, but stay and heal himself from his ablutophobia - fear of bathing. She reminds him that his smell is becoming more and more wretched as time passes. She spends her evenings in her bathroom, trying to extrapolate Buddy from the tub, imploring him to return to his job as war correspondent, but Buddy will not move, and his dirt and stench make transfer to Edna.

Wilson ignores the stink of Edna - he's sweet on her. Beth continues to drop hints about the "awful smell", politely demanding that Edna "seek out" the smell and take action to correct it, before Beth has to take matters into her own hands and "remove" the offending order, no matter how much she has come to like and appreciate Edna as an assistant. Edna and Wilson swing into action, hiding the handiwipes from Beth just before Josh's piano lessons, driving Beth to uncharacteristic distraction and her emotional breaking point. It's the handiwipe war that causes Edna to fall apart, and admit to herself that she must finally wash herself of the past, as Wilson stays by her side to comfort her that she can never wash herself of life's memories.

Director Krista D'Agostino delivers playwright Meriwether's deceptively complex comedy-drama to full fruition. Like Edna's waking and office life, TMMM bends and curves, starting its journey as a well-lit sitcom, and reaching a destination of the fog of war, those left behind, and what those left behind face living in a world where resolve comes in a 22-minute format, and all things dear, including family, are expected to be washed away clean. The message becomes clear, and Live Wire's ensemble admirably adjudicates the message.

The Mistakes Madeline Made runs through November 3 at the Greenhouse Theater.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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