Eclipse Theatre rescues The Dark at the Top of the Stairs from being just another curio | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Eclipse Theatre rescues The Dark at the Top of the Stairs from being just another curio

The production deals with a number of social issues without allowing them to upstage the story.

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The last production in the Eclipse Theatre Company's season dedicated to William Inge is a perfectly crafted, mildly melodramatic 1957 drama about a domineering, unfaithful traveling salesman, his stalwart, long suffering wife, and their two unhappy children. In the hands of a less capable director and cast, this once-popular play could come off as just another museum piece, interesting only to theater history aficionados. To be sure the three acts unfold slowly. Inge carefully adds in one conflict after another—the husband feels trapped in the house, the wife wants him to do less traveling for work, the daughter resists her mother's attempts to get her to socialize more—and slowly, slowly, slowly the tension mounts.

Happily, director Jerrell L. Henderson has filled his production with strong actors who know how to give Inge's words life and hold the audience's full attention. Aneisa Hicks, playing Cora Flood, the wife at the center of the story, shows remarkable range and depth; she is equally compelling when she is quietly following her daily routine and when she speaks her mind. Chris Daley, as Cora's husband, Ruben, matches Hicks's energy and power; when they clash, they fight like a real couple, with a real, palpable passion for each other. The play, set in Oklahoma in 1922, touches on a number of social issues—racism, anti-Semitism, class difference, economic disruption (Ruben sells harnesses at a time when automobiles are replacing horses)—and Henderson and his cast deftly deal with these issues, acknowledging them, but never allowing them to upstage Inge's story and his perhaps too painstaking character development.   v

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