Theater Review by Jerald Raymond Pierce
3 out of 4
It’s sometimes said that playwrights write plays about issues that they’re grappling with. It’s a sort of public, professional art therapy. If there is a difficult topic, a playwright has the vehicle to create characters who can talk, argue, sometimes fight, and eventually come to a conclusion (or a realization that there isn’t one) on stage. The Snare, the world premiere play by Samantha Beach, is one of those explorations. Beach uses her play to take a deep dive into the difficulties of faith and parenthood. It’s perhaps not as clean as many would want, but then again, neither is life.
The best compliment for this piece and Jackalope Theatre Company’s production is that these characters are interesting to watch. Even without a plot (which, to be frank, The Snare lacks at many points), these are five people whose lives, thoughts, and experiences are fundamentally interesting. Cyd Blakewell (Abigail) leads this talented cast as a newly promoted pastor at her church. Her faith is her foundation and it proves strong enough to withstand some aggressive sexism from those who attend her church, but it is dealt a major blow when her daughter, Ruth (Caroline Heffernan), claims to hear the voice of the Devil telling her to do things.
That’s essentially all there is in terms of solid plot. The crisis point is hit right off the bat and everything else is fallout. How will this family of faith deal with a daughter that honestly believes that she is being spoken to by the devil? From there the play gets a bit murky despite maintaining a high entertainment value. It darts around between topics of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why do some people have it worse off for seemingly no reason?” and eventually finds its way to the most grounded and intimate of the questions: “Is God there? What is there when God isn’t responding?” The latter question is this play’s attempted gut punch. But Blakewell’s fantastic performance isn’t quite able to pull this script up to where it wants to be when her Abigail is faced with doubting her faith.
The play is so unfocused up to that point that it’s unable to drive the weight of that change home. Beach isn’t aided by Elana Boulos’ direction leaving many scenes un-ended. The combination of Beach’s writing and Boulos’ direction has many scenes ending at a point where characters seem like they are just about to get into the interesting meat of a conversation. This production is, however, improved by an incredible sound design by Thomas Dixon. Set designer Ashley Woods and Props designer Devon Green also deserve a lot of credit for creating a living room/kitchen that could have been ripped straight from the house of a childhood friend.
I keep coming back to the title of this play: The Snare. Why that title? The Bible reads (2 Timothy 2:26): “and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Ominous. But, in that exceedingly appropriate passage, who would it be referring to? In other words, whose story is this? Is it the story of Ruth struggling to escape the devil’s snare and her family helping? Or is it the story of Abigail trying to escape the snare that is her daughter? That ambiguity is what holds this play back. I kept waiting for this play to level me, but it failed to land that emotional hit. It’s a world premiere and I’m sure there’s a possibility of new drafts down the line. But there’s something fantastic here that kept me mulling the contents of this play over long after I left the theatre.
Jackalope Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Samantha Beach’s The Snare runs through April 1st at Broadway Armory Park (5917 N Broadway, Chicago). Tickets are on sale at www.jackalopetheatre.org. More information is also available at www.theatreinchicago.com.
Jerald Raymond Pierce is a journalist, stage manager, actor, director, and playwright in the Chicago area with an MA in Arts Journalism from Syracuse University and a BFA in Acting from Ohio University. He also is a contributor to American Theatre magazine and an editor for ShowSnob.com. When he’s not spending unnecessary amounts of money on sports tickets, theatre tickets, and random travels, he’s probably ranting about Doctor Who, time travel, and the general merits of current television and movie writers.