“Beyond Caring” @ Lookingglass Theatre

“Beyond Caring” @ Lookingglass Theatre

Theater Review by Jerald Raymond Pierce

3.5 out of 4

If you ask for my definition of Chicago’s style of theatre, I’m going to point you in the direction of Lookingglass’ production of Beyond Caring. This play is the kind of gritty realism and sickening truth that is synonymous with the theatre community of Chicago. With Beyond Caring, writer/director Alexander Zeldin doesn’t attempt to force answers down the throats of his audience. It’s not that kind of play. Rather than try to solve the world’s problems with his play, Zeldin simply asks his audience to look around and be more aware. 

The story follows five workers on the graveyard cleaning shift at a factory. Ebony-Grace (Caren Blackmore), Tracy (J. Nicole Brooks), and Sonia (Wendy Mateo) are temp workers new to an assignment in a factory cleaning up after the day’s work. Everything the audience sees takes place within the factory’s break room. The three women are lead through by Ian (Keith D. Gallagher—the only white member of the cast, and purposefully the boss) and his number two, longtime employee and avid reader, Phil (Edwin Lee Gibson). The rest of the play flits to different days in the lives of these five, pushing them all to the brink of losing or leaving this job, but proving time and time again that they just can’t afford to.

It’s right there in that pain of watching someone fight through a job that is awful to them but they can’t afford to leave that this play lives. Every audience member is forced to take a hard look at their own lives and realize every instance they take for granted. Every job they can leave for a better one. Every day they can take off without worrying if they’ll be allowed back after. It’s uncomfortable. Breaking eye contact with the contents of the stage is necessary at times and will always meet another pair searching for relief. 

I could continue to gush. So, I will, but about the exquisite design decisions. This is a warehouse/factory space: Vaulted ceilings, drab grey walls, awful fluorescent lights, the works. But the beauty in what Zeldin created with scenic/lighting designer Daniel Ostling and sound designer/composer Josh Anio Grigg was every shift in time between scenes. What could be a respite for the audience, instead was a headlong plunge into a void. But rather than silence accompanying the darkness, there’s a thick rumbling that reverberates in the soul. 

Unsettling. Everything about this play is unsettling and every action taken by Zeldin and his designers sets out to continue to upset. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of levity. Zeldin’s script is so natural that the simple joy of watching these people live brings a smile because they themselves find reasons to smile. But Zeldin also creates something a bit perverse in that. There’s the fourth wall in theatre, and then there’s whatever Zeldin created between his actors and the audience. Rather than behind some imaginary wall, Zeldin puts his audience as a fly in the corner of the room, seeing things that, well, they shouldn’t (or at least normally wouldn’t).

The only issue I had with this play was the ending. I searched for a neat tie-up to put a nice little bow on the end of this play and leave the audience with a clear message to go out and act on. But there isn’t one. Or at least not one that is applicable to everyone. That’s the point. This play asks that you sit and watch these people live through their situations and watch them plow right on through anyway. It doesn’t ask for pity, though. These people, who to some (probably many, unfortunately) are beyond caring about, will live right on no matter what. They will keep going. Because they have to. 

Lookingglass Theatre Company, in association with Dark Harbor Stories, present the U.S. Premiere of Beyond Caring, written and directed by Alexander Zeldin. Beyond Caring runs March 22 – May 7, 2017 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson. Buy tickets online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org or by phone at (312) 337-0665. 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.