Four Places hovers brilliantly between public pleasantries and private dysfunction | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Four Places hovers brilliantly between public pleasantries and private dysfunction

Adult children confront the past and future lives of their aging parents over lunch.

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It's their weekly lunch date. They're sitting in the restaurant where she and her daughter always go, where she has her usual order of Caesar salad with salmon bits and a rum and Diet Coke (OK, three), and where the waitress fusses over her like a favorite customer. "Poetry is in the details," Peggy (Meg Thalken) tells her children, Ellen (Amy Montgomery) and Warren (Bruch Thomas Reed), who has joined them this week. "Not the similes. Not the obvious metaphors."

Joel Drake Johnson gets the details of this family's most uncomfortable lunch just right in Four Places, in which adult children confront the past and future lives of their aging parents, a confrontation that occurs amid the petty frustrations, the major mishaps, and the minor beauties (the wrong ketchup, the lost spouses, a bit of Mozart on the piano) of personal histories that sometimes only seem to intersect by happenstance and other times produce each other. The dialogue stabs with mundane authenticity.

Against the ostentatious hamming of the others, Thalken demonstrates the utmost mastery of her craft in her virtuosic performance as Peggy, who is cantankerous, hilarious, heartbreaking, and sincere in her every breath and gesture. Under Lia Mortensen's direction Four Places hovers brilliantly between both the syrupy pleasantries of social and commercial discourse and the private humiliation of bodily dysfunction, the idealized roles of parents and children and their disappointing realities.   v

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