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Theatre Fri May 16 2014
Drew Schad and Kate LoConti in Shattered Globe Theatre's production of Mill Fire. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Playwright Sally Nemeth's Mill Fire would be perfect for these times and this place - if "these times" were 1996 and "this place" was the Lifetime for Women movie channel. Mill Fire was dated, stereotypical and melodramatic before Nemeth typed her last line.
The time is 1979, the place L.A. (Lower Alabama), and everyone knows everyone. All of the women stay at home, and all of the men work at the mill. We have our stereotypical young couple in Marlene (Kate LoConti, who happens to bare a striking resemblance to Deadwood's Molly Parker. Like Parker, LoConti shows a fine acting range and I hope she can find better parts moving forward in her career) and Champ (Drew Schad). Marlene and Champ are young, horny and in love. On the other end of the spectrum there's Sunny (Rebecca Jordan) and Bo (Ken Bradley). Sunny's a mean lush of a woman (though a tidy homemaker) married to a subtly implied impotent Bo; his impotence is blamed on a Vietnam War injury, but with a wife like Sunny to come home to, who really knows what the cause of Bo's impotence is?
Disaster strikes the mill. Bo is injured but recovers; Champ does not. Sunny is relieved that her only source of income and blame for her miserable life made it through the explosion; Marlene is inconsolable, denied by a few moments to say a final goodbye to Champ, but also bares an excruciating anger that lasts the full year when offered what she considers blood money to replace the irreplaceable Champ.
We're given the communal POV through Three Unmerry Widows, who intermittently throughout the production ruminate on their losses with their husbands' untimely demise. One of the Widows (Deanna Redd-Foster) acts as a magpie on Marlene' shoulder, as Marlene's refusal to take the monetary settlement offered up and running holds up the payout for the rest of the women and families that lost their main support. But Marlene is believably headstrong and bitter about her loss, holding the whole community as emotional hostages for their willingness to take the money and forget. We soon find out via the Three Merry Widows that Marlene acquiesces, in her own way, but as forewarned by Marlene, the payout was pay-off, and a pittance at that — and once paid out and off, the corporation that owns the mill is done with the survivors.
While the loss for Champ is successfully played out in this very flawed script (as is the warmth of love and affection that Schad and LoConti when onstage together), this production is annoying. The Three Unmerry Widows spend their lines talking about the loss of status in being someone's wife, or later on, finding out that the money they settled for was on the short side of the '79 inflation rate, and the Mill was done wit' 'em. These Widows were more like Sunny than Marlene - their men being a paycheck to keep the family structure humming, but the few time they spoke of the men themselves, their words of lovers' loss seemed hollow. Even in '79, after the Civil Rights and Feminist movements, even in Lower Alabama most men and women knew there was more to a woman than being Susie Homemaker. I just could not sympathize with their losses, perhaps because the loss of a human being was actualized on this stage.
And then there's the little matter of Sunny and Bo. One hour and 43 minutes of marital strife, only to be quickly wrapped up with the realization that "no matter what, we're still here, so we got that workin' for us."
Unfortunately for Nemeth, Lifetime for Women, like the audience they serve, has moved on from 1996. Currently the trend is women who kill their men for money, perhaps with their lesbian lover who was once their husband's mistress. This plotline delivers more empathy than Mill Fire.
Shattered Globe Theatre's Mill Fire runs through June 7 at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave. Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors and $20 for those 29 or younger. Tickets are available online, at the Theater Wit box office or by calling 773-975-8150.