AWAY, Northlight Theatre, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Australian playwright Michael Gow seems to think that the way to create humanistic drama is to introduce stereotypical characters in stock situations in the first act, then undercut them in the second. But the three intersecting domestic dramas that comprise Away reveal the flaw inherent in that approach: the hackneyed setups render implausible all the subsequent heartfelt interactions and reconciliations. And Gow doesn't so much explore or expose the fraudulence of his situations as he does substitute one set of stereotypes for another; what's remarkable about this three-ring melodrama is how many cliches he's able to pack in, from disease-of-the-week tragedy to doomed May-September romance to star-crossed teen love. Gow tries to give his television sensibilities a veneer of erudition by riffing on Shakespeare, but his inversions of The Tempest, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream are facile, uncomfortably reminiscent of Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society.
The predictable plot lines do provide ample opportunity for tears and pathos, but David Petrarca's production is frequently cartoonish and flat. The cast includes a few excellent performers, but most revel in rather than play against the familiarity of their characters, creating a drama that might be passable as a Masterpiece Theatre episode but is unaffecting onstage. --Adam Langer