Brimstone and Treacle | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Brimstone and Treacle


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Brimstone and Treacle, Terrapin Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Dennis Potter's play revolves around a British husband and wife who've never expressed the guilt, grief, or anger they feel after a car accident left their daughter, Pattie, mentally handicapped. An intriguing examination of good, evil, and spiritual faith, the work focuses on the mother (the excellent Elizabeth West), who continues to hope and cling desperately to her faith while trying to placate her husband (Gerrit O'Neill), an irritable, suspicious man who berates his wife for believing that Pattie (Susie Griffith) will regain her senses.

The couple's bitterness is exacerbated by the sudden arrival of Martin, an ingratiating young man who claims to have known the old Pattie. Her mother comes to believe that angels have sent him while her father is wary of this stranger, and the audience is led to wonder whether Martin is the devil. Sean Cooper makes this suggestion almost insultingly obvious with overdone eye rolling and glances at the audience whenever the script hints at malice or sexual innuendo. Cooper can be fun to watch, but Martin's creepy attentions to Pattie need to be more menacing.

A similar charge could be leveled against this entire show, directed by Brad Nelson Winters. The comedy is finely played, but this production fails to make us feel with any intensity the ugliness and evil that Potter dredges up.

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