“YOU CAN CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY.”
The remarkable Rebecca Jordan, one of Chicago’s most gifted actors and a founding member of the Shattered Globe Theatre Ensemble, portrays a woman attempting to break free of her pallid existence in the Chicago Premiere of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s absorbing play “Be Here Now,” directed by Shattered Globe’s producing artistic director Sandy Shinner. Jordan’s edgy performance superbly navigates the broad emotional spectrum between despair and exhilarating euphoria in Laufer’s poignant and hopeful story framed in the promise of companionship and love.
Bari (Jordan) is a doctoral candidate whose uncompleted dissertation on nihilism has been hanging over her head. The frustration of her inability to land a tenure-track position as a professor, which forces her back home, is not the only problem, but it may be one of the main reasons the cynical Bari is not a lot of fun to be around. Her co-workers at the fulfillment center in the fictional upstate New York town of East Cooperville–supervisor Patty Cooper (Deanna Reed-Foster) and Patty’s niece, Luanne (Demetra Dee)–have tried to get her involved in various activities. Patty wants to set up Bari with her cousin Mike (Joseph Wiens), a bike-riding scavenger with a compelling back story. Luanne is supportive, too, although she has a hot new relationship of her own to manage.
It’s not long before we realize that Bari has seizures that leave her momentarily incapacitated and then oddly and inexplicably manic. The events increase in frequency and emotional impact to a degree that, when the fateful meeting with Mike unravels into insatiable desire, it is clear that something is terribly wrong. Or, perhaps, wonderfully right.
Mike, the glib loner with a secret who moved to town to start over and now knows everyone, is played by SGT ensemble member Joseph Wiens, whose work here is marvelously understated. Wiens plays a man discovering that a connection with someone other than his pet crow, Hubble, may be a way out of his own listless existence. But there is something about Bari that makes him uneasy.
SGT ensemble member Reed-Foster and Protégé Alumna Dee contribute generously to the lighter elements of the story. Angela Weber Miller’s rugged restoration set design, together with the elevated sensory experience of Shelley Strasser’s lighting and Stephen Gawrit’s sound design, creates a quizzical atmosphere perfectly suited for what is to come.
The life-threatening situations that we encounter, or witness in others, are ultimately lessons in survival. By challenging Bari to choose one of two narrow paths, each with a high degree of risk, Laufer’s work helps to broaden our understanding of the importance of personal fulfillment over everything else. In the end, Jordan and Wiens–both exceptionally fine actors–create a fascinating relationship between their characters, rounding the corners of perception to achieve something together that neither could accomplish on their own.