Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Right Now
Facility Theatre
Review by Karen Topham

Also see Karen's recent review of Seagulls

Maria Stephens
Photo by Shym
dado, one of Chicago theatre's most gifted and idiosyncratic directors (and also on occasion among the most frustrating), has crafted an absolutely riveting production for the start of Facility Theatre's 2023-2024 season. A longtime associate of Facility, she is back with French Canadian playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin's Right Now (translated by Chris Campbell), a show that plays to many of her strengths: crisp dialogue, entrancing characters, real humor, honest pathos, and a plot that is anything but straightforward and leans heavily into surrealism. You might need to take time to mull over what you've seen, but you will have no doubt whatsoever that it was something provocative and fascinating.

Toupin's play focuses on a young couple, traumatized by the loss of their first baby (not a spoiler), who are attempting to cope in their own ways. Alice (Maria Stephens), the point of view character in all of this, is utterly lost in her grief: she wanders around an empty apartment all day wearing nothing but her nightie and maybe a dressing gown, sleeping in the living room instead of her own bed, and frequently imagining that she hears her baby crying–until it stops and she remembers that she can't do anything about it–which of course starts the cycle all over again. Her husband Ben (Josh Odor) is a doctor who works long hours and these days only comes home to do his paperwork and stare off into space, lost in memories he is unwilling or unable to share.

At the start of the play, it could go anywhere. Alice makes tentative efforts to engage Ben in romance, but his interest is just not there: he is dead inside. When he accidentally steps on one of the baby's stuffies, carelessly left in the living room by Alice, it stops him in his tracks. She may need to see and hold them–at one point she showers the room with dozens of them as her mind takes her back to the child she no longer has–but he can't handle even the sight of one. This is a couple on a slow train to hell, and the audience could be forgiven if we now expect the painfully sad dissolution of one or both of their minds.

We'd be very wrong though.

An outside force–in the form of across-the-hall neighbors who have been vacationing for the whole six-month time Alice and Ben have lived in this building–disrupts the melancholy repetitiveness of their current lives with manically animated visits that rapidly alter the play's trajectory, making it both confusing and hilarious, and firmly removing Alice from anything like reality.

The perfectly named Gauche family consists of mother Juliette (Shawna Franks), her son Francois (Elliot Baker), and her husband Gilles (Kirk Anderson). To say that the Gauches are strange is to damn them with faint praise: these people could make the Addams family look like the Cleavers. Juliette dances into the apartment alone at first, finding Alice (of course) wearing only night clothes, and immediately starts looking about the apartment as if she owns it, not waiting for any kind of invitation, and offering her own blunt assessments of everything she sees while rapidly swinging from one mood to another for no apparent reason while Alice looks on, not having a clue about what is happening.

Juliette compounds her intrusion by calling across to her own apartment and inviting her son Francois to come and join them. As if Franks were not enough, whirling dervish-like around the room, Baker's Francois suddenly doubles the attention-seeking, scenery-chewing lunacy. In the original London production, the character was played and costumed as a ridiculous man-child. dado doesn't quite go there, but her version of Francois is at least as bizarre. He climbs onto furniture, asks even more inappropriate questions than did Juliette, flirts brazenly with Alice, and gleefully acknowledges that his parents never wanted him, much preferring his deceased brother Ben (the name is not a coincidence), all the while maintaining a slightly insane smile as both he and his mother talk about how much he would like it here–as if he were moving in.

Gilles' arrival ups the ante yet again. Anderson's overly exuberant take on this former scholar–he just happens to be someone whose theories helped form Ben's approach to medicine–manages to upstage even his wife and son. It doesn't take long before the three of them become fixtures in the apartment (for better and for worse), greedily taking every advantage they can of the very confused Alice and the zombie-like Ben until hospitality somehow becomes mixed with sexuality and, as her reality grows less and less grounded, Alice finds herself enjoying things more and actively helps them push it further away.

Anderson does double duty here, starring as Gilles and designing the set. In fact, dado's whole group of designers has done a wonderful job. Natasha Vuchurovich Dukich's costumes are perfect, from Ben's bland suit to the outlandish outfits worn by the Gauches. (In fact, I wish she would tell me where she got Juliette's first costume: I covet it.) Richard Norwood's work on lights, which includes party lights that appear in Alice's imagination, is excellent also. But the biggest tip of my hat (if I were wearing one) has to go to sound designer Santiago Quintana, who is called on here to create many effects both subtle and brazen, and absolutely nails them all. With their help, dado is able to take us on a journey into a broken mind as we have never seen it done before.

Of course, it is Stephens' ability to portray this painful journey that makes it all possible. Her performance is completely grounded even when her character is not. She does more things with small forced smiles than even seems possible, and when Alice is actually merry or even frolicsome–mostly, it must be said, in her imagination–her face opens up to let in the world–or at least Toupin's bizarro version of it.

Right Now runs through December 3, 2023, at Facility Theatre, 1138 N. California, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit