Factory Girls, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at the Chopin Theatre. Like Frank McGuinness's best-known work--the earnest if somewhat trying hostage drama Someone Who'll Watch Over Me--his play about Irish textile workers who take over their employers' Donegal office is an appealing actors' vehicle. But here McGuinness's characters aren't chained to a wall, which allows for more physical and emotional interaction. Still, both works have a certain discursive, open-ended quality that somewhat dulls their impact. The conflicts between workers and management in Factory Girls sometimes feel mechanical, but the camaraderie he develops between his five well-drawn female characters is affecting and infectious; when they gather for a sit-in that's like a drunken slumber party, the scene is pervaded by both hilarity and desperation.
Rivendell has assembled a fine cast for the show's Chicago premiere, most notably Meighan Gerachis as Vera, who must decide between fighting the good fight and tending to her sick children, and Mary Cross as Rosemary, a young, impish worker who develops a taste for gin. But director Nick Bowling's clean, spare production fails to completely capture the grittiness of the workers' environment or the urgency of their predicament. It seems that if some of the characters here were laid off, they'd find rewarding careers in PR and marketing. As a result, McGuinness's frustratingly indeterminate conclusion registers more as a shrug than as an impassioned plea for the disenfranchised laborer. --Adam Langer