Third Eye Theatre Ensemble is offering a labor of love this weekend with its Chicago premiere production of Stitch, marketed as "An A Cappella Opera for 3 voices and 3 Sewing Machines."
They had me at the three sewing machines.
This bitter, mercifully brief (35-minute), relatively abstract work by composer Juliet Palmer explores the constrained lives of the women who labor in sweatshops—once in America, now in other parts of the world—to produce the clothing that we all wear.
The poetic English libretto by Anna Chatterton uses a seamstress's unexpectedly brutal vocabulary ("whipstitch," "chainlock") to evoke the crazy-making, repetitive-labor trap these women find themselves in. "Stitch my mouth shut," they sing, "I'm hurtin so bad."
Laboring in a tattered environment closer to Wozzeck's than to Carmen's, there's no reprieve for these factory workers. But the piece, directed by Rose Freeman and conducted by Alexandra Enyart, is a dancing, acting, singing tour de force for the cast of two sopranos and a mezzo. Kudos to Angela Born, Mary Lutz Govertsen, and Rena Ahmed for pulling off the high-wire act of sustained, metaphorically naked (i.e., without instrumental accompaniment) vocal performance.
Palmer's an experimenter; my favorite part of Stitch—apart from a break-the-wall moment at the end—is her use of the distinctive sound of ripping fabric. It's employed throughout, but most effectively in the strategically understated opening moments.
The sewing machines, on the other hand, turn out to be a bit of a one-note disappointment: bereft of range, they either just hum along or they don't.
There's one more performance, tonight, June 15, at 7:30 PM, at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, 773-742-5420. Tickets, at thirdeyete.com, are $20.