The Boarding House, Next Theatre Company. As anyone who saw the Journeymen's acclaimed staging of Angels in America last year can attest, John Judd is a performer of great depth and insight. He's just about written the book on character acting, a fact confirmed by his tender performance in local playwright Anne Noble Massey's latest drama as the curmudgeonly boarder and reluctant romantic Mr. John. Yet Judd, a guaranteed scene-stealer, merely holds his own with his fellow cast members, who also give nuanced, finely etched performances. From Molly Glynn Hammond's hard-nosed boardinghouse operator Imogen to Guy Massey's comically inept interloper Paul, The Boarding House is one of the best-acted productions to hit Chicago stages this season.
The case for Massey's script--a slice-of-life look at a small group of boardinghouse operators and residents just after World War II--is almost as tight. Massey, a Northwestern alum, does well at reproducing 1940s social mores and modes of speech. Her comic and dramatic instincts are also razor sharp, as is her ability to weave comedy and drama together into a seamless, lifelike mix. What's more, she avoids the sentimentality associated with that era: rather than pair her characters up as lovers, she keeps the proceedings combative and taut throughout--for her, emotional warfare rivals the horrors of physical combat. If Massey's script seems a bit impressionistic, it's entirely redeemed by the cast, who bring their characters' frustrations to life in vivid, exhaustive detail. --Nick Green