To call Facility Theatre's mesmerizing staging of New York up-and-comer Jen Silverman's demanding Phoebe in Winter an unlikely success is an understatement. First off, the playwright behind the formulaic, audience-friendly The Roommate, seen at Steppenwolf this summer, would seem a dubious candidate to create this confounding, unsettling, multivalent fable of global, familial, and psychological warfare, more European theatrical experimentalism than American regional theater fare. And second, the cripplingly underresourced Facility, holed up in an amenity-free church school basement, wouldn't appear well positioned to tackle a script of this magnitude.
But then, Chicago's storefront theater history is littered with unlikely successes, although few have been as resounding as this. In Silverman's disjointed, indefinable world, soldier brothers return home to father at war's end only to be taken hostage by an unflappable woman who insists they replace the family she lost in battle—giving the manse's beleaguered maid a unique opportunity to launch domestic guerrilla incursions and leading, unaccountably, to the simultaneous creation and destruction of a new social order. Everything's up for grabs: Some people die and stay dead, while others sit down to dinner with eternally bleeding head wounds. Director Dado, no stranger to esoteric theatrical worlds, fashions a tantalizing realm both measured and explosive, lush and dissolute, artificial and authentic, and her invincible cast somehow give emotional and psychological coherence to a planet spinning off several axes at once. In the process, they all but destroy the theater. It's a year's worth of playgoing packed into 100 minutes. v