Sundown, Yellow Moon does best in quiet shadows | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Sundown, Yellow Moon does best in quiet shadows

Raven's production has heart, but doesn't fully connect the pieces.

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Twin sisters—an academic with a Fulbright and a struggling songwriter—return from New York to their small Tennessee hometown after their divorced father gets suspended from his teaching job. But it soon becomes clear that the women need their own reckoning with their personal problems. And what the family can't say to each other clearly, they try to say in songs.

In Sundown, Yellow Moon, Rachel Bonds follows a familiar blueprint, but the play, now in a local premiere at Raven directed by Cody Estle, doesn't coalesce. The songs, by husband-and-wife duo the Bengsons, have a lilting poignancy to them. There are several moments that edge into quiet but painful acknowledgment of familial conflicts that are mercifully devoid of histrionic revelations.

Yet the play feels overly determined and schematic to its detriment. Scholar Joey (Diana Coates) meets melancholic married poet Ted (Josh Odor) by the reservoir, and remembers him reading at her high school years ago. Similarly, sister Ray (Liz Chidester) recalls that Carver (Jordan Dell Harris) played with his band at her middle school. That band went on to great acclaim, leaving Carver in the dust, trying to put other people (like their father) back together as a counselor. Will these "outsiders" touch the women in ways their family cannot? Well, what do you think?

The actors, particularly Will Casey as Tom, the loving (though sometimes truculent) father, all find individual moments where we connect with them. But they remain frustratingly disconnected from each other. Their tendency to talk at each other feels like a playwright's self-conscious interior monologue, particularly in the scenes with Ted and Josie. Still, we grow to like these people, even if we don't feel as if we've really learned a lot about them by the end.  v

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