Attending a small, underground play in Chicago can be a hit or a miss. Making do with limited props, actors and overall design elements can often turn out messy and uncoordinated. However, even with these obstacles, Red Light Winter proved to be an artistically crafted play that spurred an array of emotions.
Fairlane Theatre Company (3110 N. Sheffield Ave.) is definitely the new kid on the block, located just off the Belmont Red Line stop. It opened just over a year ago and since then the company has had one goal: to put on a good show.
Oftentimes theaters can get swept up in the process of the production and business of a play and forget about the art. Oftentimes playwrights find their scripts taken from them and manipulated by directors while they are told to sit in the back and be quiet. Oftentimes we forget that going to a play is not about dressing up and expecting immaculately clean bathrooms.
Fairlane Theatre Company isn’t trying to impress us with its bathrooms, but with what it puts on stage.
Sure, many audience members are friends of the actors and only attended the show to support their childhood buddy. Sure, the actors are unpaid and only doing this for the love of acting. And, sure, it might seem as if you’re walking into an apartment rather than a theater.
But with all of the showy and glamorous elements stripped away, attendees are left with the raw art of theater.
Fairlane Theatre Company’s Red Light Winter, which runs through March 8, is composed of only two acts and three actors.
Two former college friends Davis (Bob Pantalone) and Matt (Chris Martin) take a trip to Amsterdam to get away from life in New York City. While Davis, a newly successful editor, celebrates with all the “Amsterdamage” he can get into, Matt is a brilliant, yet unsuccessful playwright getting over a bad breakup.
The play opens with Matt sitting at his desk glaring at his computer screen before the act even begins. His solemn figure might even be mistaken for some technical guy making last-minute adjustments. But as the lights go down, you realize he is a part of the play that is about to begin.
What follows is Matt’s five minute wordless contemplation with suicide. Just as the noose is in place, Davis enters and brings along a surprise.
Matt’s riveting deliberation with death is executed artfully and makes an impact that lasts throughout the rest of the play.
Davis’ surprise is Christina (Lindsay Bartlette Allen), a Dutch prostitute, for Matt that Davis hopes will get him out of his slump. An awkward love triangle then follows, containing all the typical elements — laughter, tears and sex. Yes, sex. Red Light Winter contains nudity and sexual situations that you might not want to watch with a parent alongside you.
Through the first act we learn that Matt’s depression mainly comes from a breakup with his previous long-term girlfriend who fell in love with somebody else. That somebody else turned out to be Davis. Despite this Matt is still friends with his former college buddy, although the constant and painful reminder still exists.
To make matters worse, Matt begins to fall for the Dutch prostitute just as the prostitute falls for Davis. Through the love triangle that follows we dive deeper into their pasts and their morals.
All actors rose to the challenge of the sexual scenes and performed them with artistic professionalism. While it is quite out of the norm for live, onstage nudity, these scenes provided extra emotion and depth to the play.
Each actor took on their character with every moment of the play — whether it was comedic or dramatic. Their dedication and love of acting was evident with each striving to put on a great performance individually.
The only flaws for Red Light Winter were the common setbacks most small theaters encounter. Most of the seating provided a limited view of the stage and took away from the connection of actors to audience and at times there was distracting background sound.
But overall Fairlane Theater Company did a great job of putting on Red Light Winter with the resources they had.
It was enlightening to see a theater company really pushing the boundaries while remaining down-to-earth. The actors were modest as they diligently cleaned up after the show instead of immediately accepting appraise. It goes to show that a professional and emotional work of art can be produced from such a small theater.