Taking Care, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. This latest offering from Mia (Chagrin Falls) McCullough would be ruined by an intermission: 90 minutes of total immersion effectively communicate seven years in the lives of Ma, a Jewish mother in her 80s, and Benny, her mentally ill son. In set designer Russell Poole's familiar three-room apartment, time both rushes by and stands still; blackouts convey the duo's loneliness. Grimly making sandwiches, watching TV, or playing cards, Ma blames obsessive-compulsive, unhygienic Benny for their social isolation. But she craves her son's dependence more than he does her care--even though the one time he escapes he gets frostbite, not freedom. Defying her other children, who think Benny should be in a home, Ma keeps him under house arrest.
If this subtly powerful play had stopped here, it would have been a meticulously detailed, tabloid-tinged look at the limits of mother love. But in the second half a believable role reversal shows how Ma's almost abusive protectiveness has impaired but not destroyed Benny's capacity for independence--we come half circle, a remarkable voyage.
Director Tim Hopper--who might have settled for poignancy but instead insisted on truth--inspires utterly unself-conscious performances. Roslyn Alexander's Ma becomes more human as she becomes less mother, delivering a cautionary portrait: afraid of abandonment, she's reared an inmate. Creating a shattered soul mostly out of stage business, Guy Van Swearingen transcends Benny's symptoms and medications and a hideous black wig to hold out hope.