Mourning Pictures | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Mourning Pictures


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Mourning Pictures, Famous Door Theatre Company. Poets condense trauma and loss into images, grief framed in moments of mourning, but it's hard to translate these slices of life into vibrant theater. Honor Moore's melodramatic script, made up of stagnant, self-reflexive poems and overnarrated moments, cannot be transformed into compelling characters even by a hardworking and talented cast.

This straightforward story of a woman's pain during her mother's slow death from cancer is weakened by bland narration, monotonous, unemotional monologues, and tenuous blocking. But the play's death knell is the main character's unrepentant, artsy selfishness, expressed in blunt banalities such as "Because [my mother] is weak, she is no one." Two hours of these self-indulgent revelations were so alienating that I expected the character of the daughter to be flogged by her stalwart family. And if I heard her intone "I go to her room" one more time as she went to her mother's bedroom, I would have helped them.

Moore and director Maureen Ryan have burdened these performers with a wordiness that ultimately buries them all, but there are three brilliant survivors. Set designer Robert G. Smith has created a lucid multileveled evocation of the seasons using moving panels and reproductions of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings, lighting designer Jeff Pines has made the open spaces coherent and fluid, and Rick Peeples's sound design completes scenes with subtlety and precision. These artists are able to articulate the delicacy that Moore tried to achieve.

--Carol Burbank

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