Landladies explores the power dynamic between renters and owners | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Landladies explores the power dynamic between renters and owners

It's a moving depiction of crippling homelessness and how solutions feel completely out of reach.


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The world premiere of this Northlight Theatre- commissioned work, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Jess McLeod, presents a wonderfully complicated female relationship anchoring a larger story of income inequality and abuse of power. Christine (Leah Karpel) is a single mother struggling to find a home and keep herself and her daughter afloat, all while getting away from a destructive ex named Poet (Julian Parker). Lying about her situation, she rents an apartment from Marti (Shanesia Davis). It's oven-less and has a gaping hole in the floor, but it has four walls, so it will have to do. A poster of Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth on the wall best sums up this moving representation of eviction and homelessness: it's crippling, it disproportionately affects women, and solutions feel completely out of reach.

Karpel and Davis play their roles with a compelling mix of sharp cynicism and genuine empathy, finding common ground over their shared "otherness" and inability to get ahead. Marti has gained some independence through real estate entrepreneurship (albeit teetering on slumlord status), and sees in Christine a similarly gutsy spirit familiar with making her own luck. She gains Christine's trust through intimate conversations, acting as a seasoned advisor with her best interests at heart. What muddies the relationship, though, is Marti's power and financial dominance as the landlady. As her motives slowly come into question, it becomes clear that Christine traded one manipulative relationship for another. The shades of grey painted by Rothstein's character development and McLeod's visceral direction are a thought-provoking delight to watch.   v

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