“One memory can save a life.”
Many of us cherish items that have a rich personal storyline connecting us to another time when we felt safe and that remind us of someone we love. We surround ourselves with these things because they bring us joy; A photograph from long ago. A song sung at the holidays. These things divert our thoughts away from the present. As we reminisce, we are vulnerable to outside influences that can be used to alter our state of mind in ways both good and bad. Rational people understand the difference and how to cope with these feelings, but what about those who have otherwise lost their own free will, have rejected everything and everyone from their previous lives, and who run toward something—anything, really—that will free them from a life they feel trapped inside?
More than 1.6 million children run away each year in America from abusive homes: sexual or physical abuse, bullying or substance abuse. They simply can’t cope. The question then, as a parent, is what can be done to reconnect with these children? How can behavior that drove the children away in the first place be wiped away to start again? Who can be trusted to help? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the consequences of the desperation, anxiety and fear of facing up for the child who does not want to be found?
Something happened to Jesse Hunter at a mall with friends on March 11, 2014. Two days later, she was several states away in the company of two men. Then, she vanished. At one point, a substantial ransom was paid for information about Jesse, but nothing came of it. As the American Blues Theater production of Steven Dietz’s mind-bending thriller, “On Clover Road,” begins four years later, it’s dawn in a seedy, ramshackle room of a deserted motel. An all-business investigator of sorts—Stine—has located Jesse in a radical commune. He briefs Jesse’s emotionally wrought mother Kate about his plan to rescue her. Kate has brought along a small box of Jesse’s favorite things because, Stine tells her, “One memory can save a life.”
Stine raises doubts about whether Kate will recognize her own daughter after all the communal brainwashing and exploitation that has kept her under the emotional spell of the cult leader, Harris McClain. And while Stine’s maniacal deprogramming preparations and procedures seem ominous, when Kate considers the alternative of another failed opportunity and a long walk back, she agrees to go along. Let’s just say that it doesn’t take long at all to realize that things will go downhill quickly for Kate. Very quickly.
Director Halena Kays has assembled a superbly talented ensemble featuring ABT’s artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside (Kate) with fellow ABT ensemble member Philip Earl Johnson (Stine). I found it especially satisfying to see these two fine Chicago actors rip through Dietz’s irresistibly suspenseful 90-minute work, which is set in three movements over the course of a single day. Jon Hudson Odom adds his formidable skills to the role of Harris McClain, and Grace Smith is terrific in the role of The Girl.
Lizzie Bracken’s scenic design will shock you as soon as you take your seat in Stage 773’s 78-seat Box Theatre. The production fits perfectly in the intimate confines and is framed in a striking neon effect by lighting designer Alexander Ridgers, ground-swelling sound effects by Rick Sims, and costumes by Alison Siple—which must entail a massive turnaround show-to-show. There’s more than enough eerie pleasure here to keep you wildly on edge, up a little later at night and hoping you never, ever end up anywhere along Clover Road.
AMERICAN BLUES THEATER
ON CLOVER ROAD
through March 16th
1225 W Belmont Ave.
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