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Lake Street Extension

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Quetico Productions, at Cafe Voltaire.

Quetico makes a bold impression with its debut production, the Chicago premiere of Lee Blessing's intense three-man drama. Director John McHugh could have set himself up for a fall, taking on Blessing's challenging play, but his directorial instincts and a strong ensemble help him do the script justice.

Drawing a parallel between the abuse a father inflicts on his son and the abuse a fascist government inflicts on its people, Blessing shows how the personal is political without ever becoming preachy. Fuller is the father who can't come to terms with the fact that he molested his son but is now a born-again Christian who wants to help the rebels in El Salvador: Blessing shows the hypocrisy and naivete of Americans who see things in black and white. His portrayal of sexual abuse is fair and accurate, not judgmental: Fuller's imagistic monologue about his own father's hands reveals how the cycle is perpetuated.

McHugh makes the most of Voltaire's space, creating stage pictures that capture the men's alienation and rage. Ed Keller as Fuller, Orion Barnes as his son Trace, and Marcus Saenz as Gregorio, the El Salvadoran Fuller brings into their lives, all find the raw emotional fuel to drive their characters. Keller plays Fuller's reflective monologues with ease, not pushing Blessing's vivid language. Barnes and Saenz are heartbreakingly honest in a scene where their hatred starts to melt away, as they play war with toy guns like boys. This image, like many in Lake Street Extension, may make us consider the way we raise our children. It's good to know that American playwrights like Blessing are creating theater that sheds some light on shameful secrets, and that someone here has the guts to put them on.

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