LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, Blue Star Performance Company, at the Church of the Atonement. This debut production delivers some of the best ensemble acting I've ever seen off-Loop. Caryl Churchill's didactic 1976 study of England's 17th-century civil wars ranges from touching to tedious, but the cast gathered by director Amy Ludwig for this Chicago premiere perform with unfailing emotional accuracy and intense but never overstated connection to one another and the text. Playing commoners whose lives are disrupted by the "holy war" that deposed one tyrant (King Charles I) and replaced him with several others (the military, Parliament, the Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell), six fine young actors--John Harrell, Kathy Keyes, Sara M. Nichols, Nathan Rankin, Kevin Theis, and Christopher Tiffany--make even arcane economic, political, and religious issues immediate matters of life and death.
Presented in the parish-house assembly hall of a church--appropriate given the script's depiction of the millennial superstitions exploited by anti-Royalist forces--the show is a model of low-tech minimalism, conveying the sweep of history with a few chairs and tables, economical lighting, and composer Matt Minde's chantlike settings of biblical texts. The sparse designs highlight the actors' honesty, intelligence, and impressive technique as they turn Churchill's sometimes schematic figures into full-blooded, frightened human beings--and without the studied signaling that compromises so many local efforts. Blue Star is a company to watch.