HOLY DAYS, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at Footsteps Theatre. In a Rivendell production you can usually count on intelligent, sophisticated performances--and Holy Days is no exception. Eschewing the puerile excess of "Chicago style" tantrum-based theater in favor of taut, close-to-the-vest acting, the four cast members maintain an exquisite focus for 75 intermissionless minutes. This is one of those rare Chicago ensembles who trust an audience enough to seduce them with understatement.
It's a shame all this intelligence is wasted on Sally Nemeth's inert, formulaic play, which she seems to have written in her sleep. Framing the story with facile metaphors of rebirth--the daffodils are blooming through the snow on Easter weekend--Nemeth takes us to a Kansas home during the Dust Bowl years. Here Mr. and Mrs. Optimism square off against Mr. and Mrs. Gloom, the latter mostly lamenting the state of the world while the former insist that things will get better. By and large Nemeth confuses drama with people stewing, a problem that director Sandy Shinner's funereal pacing exacerbates. Most disappointing, Nemeth depoliticizes a national calamity, reducing it to a series of marital upheavals--and suggesting that the best solution is a good cry. --Justin Hayford