Mrs. Coney | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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MRS. CONEY, Bailiwick Repertory. Belinda Bremner's 80-minute memory play, now in its fourth year, is quieter than Bailiwick's holiday epic The Christmas Schooner, now in its sixth season. But Mrs. Coney is just as heartwarming. Glowing with homespun detail and graced with Woody Guthrie ballads, this one-act feels as authentic and unforced as a Walker Evans photograph. Every sentiment is earned. A family ruined by the dust bowl comes to depend on the strained kindness of relatives in Kentucky. The narrator (a rueful Aaron Christensen) remembers himself as a 13-year-old loner whose mysterious encounter with the title character, a Native American recluse living in the hills, begets a very real Christmas miracle.

Bremner's slice of Americana is an uncloying depiction of the joy of doing good, paying tribute to bedrock decency in the midst of a season of schmaltz. Reprising her signature role under David Zak's direction, Gail Curry as Mrs. Coney goes beyond an apparent Katharine Hepburn imitation to communicate this mystical outsider's isolation and hard-won gratitude. As her benefactor, young Duke Doyle conveys the open-hearted wonder and compassionate curiosity of a very rich poor boy.

The evocative score, tenderly shaped by musical director Jacquie Krupka, ranges from the jubilation of "Christmas Time's a Comin'" to the quiet protest of "Dust Bowl Blues" and blossoms most magnificently in the carol "Brightest and Best." The musical ensemble performs to perfection and produces the scene-setting sound effects.

--Lawrence Bommer

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