Flicker of an Expiring Candle | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Flicker of an Expiring Candle

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Flicker of an Expiring Candle, Side Project, at the Side Studio. Sara Berry Short's world-premiere murder mystery is an intriguing but frustratingly unrealized blend of classic noir and classical history. The antics of third-century polyamorous Roman emperor Elagabalus form the backdrop for Short's script, which also owes a huge debt to Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie.

Angus, a psychotherapist with a mysterious fixation on Elagabalus, hypnotizes two clients--one his own niece, Nora, the other a cross-dressing man, Henry, who's convinced he's pregnant by his female lover--to help them recall incidents of childhood abuse. Gradually it becomes clear that these patients--and a few other townsfolk--might be implicated in the murder of Joan, lover of the tranny and of the niece's husband. It seems Joan was found strangled, her body strewn with rose petals--an apparent homage to one of the emperor's favorite means of execution.

All the plot twists fail to add up to a satisfying conclusion in Genevieve Hurst's stodgy staging. And the carefully calibrated performances necessary to elicit the tensions of a psychological thriller are missing. Laura Ciresi overplays Nora's shrill neurosis, and Larry Orr's cardboard uncle/shrink fails to convince us he could win the trust of his seriously screwed up clients. Short has come up with an interesting concept but hasn't found a way to weave these disparate elements into a comprehensible whole.

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