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Theater Wed May 06 2015

Pegasus Theatre's Ghost Gardens Can't Revive A Dying Community

GB-PegasusGhost Gardens-ElizabethB.jpg
Photo by Liam Fitzgerald.

The wrenching thought of a newborn baby dying after nine hours in her mother's arms. Baby booties in the graveyard. The name Hope on a gravestone. It's hard to imagine a mother ever overcoming her grief at the loss of a child. Pegasus Theatre's Ghost Gardens explores how people in a dying community fight to overcome grief, illness, hopelessness, and air poisoned by a local giant corporation.

The world premiere script set in Detroit is written by Steven Simoncic, a playwright in residence with Pegasus and several other Chicago theaters. Ilesa Duncan's direction and a couple of good performances are not able to overcome a script that is rambling and disjointed. Ghost Gardens doesn't persuade us that its residents have created a community -- and the play's clever use of modern technology isn't enough to save the production.

Ten years after her baby dies, Lorelie (a strong performance by Elizabeth Birnkrant) decides she's going to restructure her life. She joins a neighborhood church where pastor Powder (a sympathetic Willie B. Goodson) is a former pimp making up for his past life. Lorelie and her husband Tryg (Chris Cinereski) learn she's pregnant and try to figure out how to provide for a new life with their limited income, since Tryg has been "laid-off, fucked-off, right-sized, down-sized... fired... finished at 40."

Lorelie's mother, Helen (Gilmary Doyle-Andrews), suffering from advanced lung cancer, is involved in her daughter's life too. Helen and Powder meet for a coffee date. Their getting-acquainted conversation is the highlight of the play.

Lonnie (Nathaniel Andrew), an ex-con, comes to work for Powder. Belligerent at first, he becomes interested in the church and tries to get Powder to use social media to enhance church life. He also raises money in a Kickstarter campaign for Lorelie, who church members call Miracle Momma; she's the first sign of community revival. Myra (Anna Maldonado), a former hooker and now a nurse, is a lively presence who watches out for Helen and encourages Lorelie in her preparation for motherhood.

But at the end, Lorelie admits she was never pregnant. She returns to the cemetery and buries the baby booties.

Sarah Lewis' scenic design on a stage raked to the left is serviceable for scene and mood changes. An occasional vivid color, such as Powder's aqua blue suits and red dresses for Helen and Lorelie liven up Raquel Adorno's costume array.

Playwright Simoncic is author of eight plays including, most recently, Broken Fences and Heat Wave. Pegasus Theatre was founded in 1978, originating as a company performing original City College student writing. Pegasus was in residence at Truman College in Uptown from 1984 through 2010 and now is settled in at Chicago Dramatists.

Ghost Gardens presented by Pegasus Theatre Chicago continues at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., through May 31. (Theater entrance is behind the building at Aberdeen and May.) The production runs just under two hours with one intermission. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $18-30 and can be purchased online or by calling 866-811-4111.

 
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Nope / May 12, 2015 12:42 PM

Whoa. Why give away a major twist when it adds nothing to your review? I'm so glad I saw the play before I read this.

Nancy / May 16, 2015 6:16 PM

Fair point. I was searching for something to say about the play (not usually a problem) and went too far with plot recap. Thanks for your comment.

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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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