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schadenfreude at it's finest.

Let the fun begin.
Highly Recommended
This production is Jeff Recommended
Highly Recommended

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Reviewed by chicagodramagirl, Karen Topham

The Bunkers. The Ewings. The Bluths. The Lannisters. The Sopranos. America is fascinated by dysfunctional families; our television screens are full of them. Sometimes, as in the brutal Lannisters, the dysfunction creates drama; often, though, we find ourselves laughing at it. When we see the Peter Griffin or Nancy Botwin or Homer Simpson messing up again and again, it reminds us of how much worse things can always be. It makes us feel good by comparison to act as voyeurs into these supremely messed-up lives. It is schadenfreude at its finest: we derive pleasure from their pain. And it is in this mode that we watch Redtwist Theatre’s latest offering, the Chicago premiere of Suzanne Heathcote’s I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn’t Even Smile.

The cumbersome title of this comically provocative play derives from a repetitive non-action from one of the characters. Stuck in a dating limbo, Rebecca (Jacqueline Grandt) admits to having a small crush on a guy from her building whom she sees daily on the train. Rather than risk getting to know him, though, with its ensuing obligation to converse each day, she opts to keep her head down and not even acknowledge his presence. This risk-averse attitude has got Rebecca stuck in neutral in her life, a woman in her forties with nothing going on but a job as a bookkeeper. A year after the death of her beagle Coco, she still is in mourning because she has nothing to replace the love the dog gave her. And it has left her vulnerable to her brother Jamie (Adam Bitterman, powerful in a role foreshortened by the needs of the script) when he begs her to take in his 15-year-old daughter “just for two weeks” while he goes on his honeymoon. The fact that the girl has just been kicked out of her California school for shooting a sex video with two football players should be a tipoff that her troubles might be just as bad as Rebecca’s.

When Sadie (Emma Maltby) arrives, she brings more than the usual amount of teen baggage. Her mother has basically shipped her to her dad, and he has now pawned her off on her aunt, whom she hardly knows. And she’s been enrolled in the same restrictive school that her dad and aunt attended when they were her age, though she clings to the thought that she’ll be gone in a fortnight. At the school, she finds that, even halfway across the country, her reputation has preceded her. The girls hate her and the boys all want to get her in bed: it is a miserable existence. And it isn’t helped by coming back to Aunt Rebecca’s to listen to the bickering between her aunt and her omnipresent grandmother Daphne (Kathleen Ruhl), a woman her father hates and Rebecca barely tolerates and whose tongue is quick and caustic. Daphne has reasons for being this way (the scene in which she exposes them is Ruhl at her finest), but the bottom line is that we have three generations of dysfunctional women, for all intents and purposes, under one roof.

Let the fun begin.

I Saw My Neighbor is an opportunity for these three actresses to strut their stuff. All three characters go through a lot in the brisk 1:45 (without intermission) of the play, and each actress is put through her paces. Maltby, in her first major role, proves to be quite a find. Not only does she play the angst inherent in her part perfectly, but the script allows her opportunities to find very different levels as well. Playing opposite nerdy math geek Eric (Joshua Servantez), for example, Maltby allows her softer side to sneak past Sadie’s tough girl veneer as the boy endears himself to her. Later, in the span of a single scene, she is called upon to throw a full-out onstage tantrum, segue into the role of seductress (with Paul, played by John Blick, who came to see her mother), and then collapse from illness; that she is able to pull off all three with utter realism in such a short span of time is a testimony to this young performer’s strength.

She needs it, too, acting opposite Jeff Award-winners Grandt and Ruhl. Grandt, too, has her emotional breakdown scene, but it is in a much quieter moment that she shows the depth of Rebecca’s loneliness. With Sadie instructing her, Rebecca is talked into trying her hands at Tinder. Grandt imbues her with a pure, naïve joy at the app’s simplicity and how well it “works,” that speaks volumes about the woman she is playing: she needs to believe in these connections even when (like the man who needs to meet her in his car because he’s still living with his ex due to apartment troubles) there are issues that would be totally obvious to anyone who was not so oblivious. As to Ruhl, her character masks any pain she might feel in caustic humor at others’ expenses and drinking whiskey. In the one scene in which she is stripped bare, though, a sudden and unfeeling shift from her granddaughter causes her to lose all composure; Ruhl’s breakdown is a remarkable piece of acting that she keeps consistent with the specific hidden vulnerabilities of the character she has created.

This is a very funny play even though my descriptions may not have sounded all that funny. Schadenfreude, remember? We laugh at their dysfunction while rooting for them to find some way past it. That is what happens in the best plays of this type, and this is indeed one of them.

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atHighly Recommended ★★★★
Reviewed by Al Bresloff

Many of you are used to seeing glowing reviews from the productions at Redtwist Theatre, so this will not be a surprise. They just keep finding new plays to produce that are different to compliment their old standards. They also use their little “storefront theater” located in the heart of the Edgewater community to its full advantage. Their current production, in its Chicago premiere has a strange title, that truly has very little to do with the play, I Saw My Neighbor on the train and I Didn’t Even Smile”. Catchy, right? For the rest of this review, I will call this play “Train” (to save some space).

“Train” is written by Suzanne Heathcote and takes place in Chicago. The basic story is about a very dysfunctional family and in particular the three women in this family. They are generational: Grandmother, Daphne (Kathleen Ruhl plays grandma, and it is if this role was written with her in mind. She is perfect), Daughter,Rebecca (the always reliable Jacqueling Grandt who is as lovely as ever) and  granddaughter, Sadie (newcomer Emma Maltby, who I am positive will be a name in Chicago theater for years to come).

The three women, who are thrown together due to circumstances of life, are forced to make lifestyle changes that are uncomfortable for them and as it turns out, for all of those that encounter them. The story starts out with us in a diner (Arnel Sancianco has designed a multi-task set that can be converted with as little as a change of tablecloth ) where Rebecca is meeting with her brother Jamie (Adam Bitterman in a strong character portrayal that proves there are no small parts—he is dynamic). It seems that he is about to get re-married and at the same time, his ex is shipping their daughter from California to Chicago to be under his care. He needs his sister Rebecca’s aid and assistance to make it through this ordeal as his fiancée is unhappy with his daughter (who by the way, is 15 and has a porn film all over the Internet).

Rebecca, who recently had to put her dog “down” has no real life and doesn’t want this responsibility, but takes it on to assist her brother. Their mother, Daphne is someone they do not communicate well with, but she is in and out of Rebecca’s apartment daily to watch TV (she won’t buy cable) and during this 100 minutes of story-telling, we learn deep truths as to why this family is so estranged. The majority to the play revolves around these three women, who are kind of thrown together make the adjustments to the situation they are placed in. As we spend time with them, we learn more about why they do what they do and they each learn a little from each other.

While there are many ups and downs during their adjustment period, the men in their lives change them to understand more about their lives and of those that surround them. For example, dateless  Rebecca is taught how to use the Internet to meet men, does meet one, who a sit turns out is not a nice man and what takes place is not good.  Paul is played by John Blick. There is another player, Joshua Servantez, who plays Eric, a student that befriends Sadie and helps her to see herself in a new light. As I said, the play is about the women and the men are used to open our eyes and ears to the souls of each character. Director Erin Murray uses this tiny space to full advantage making sure that despite being five feet from the action, the sight lines for all 34 seats is clear. Not an easy task.

The path that Heathcote takes to get us to her ending, which by the way can be called “happy” is short and sweet, but also bittersweet. What we do find is that three unhappy women who are living day-by-day with no expectations of happiness, find that they have relatives who are more than relatives, they are FAMILY and through their relationships can find the missing ingredient of their lives, love and friendship which at the very end can lead to happiness.

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Highly Recommended
Reviewd by Albert Williams, Chicago Reader

This sometimes raw but ultimately upbeat 2015 comedy by U.S.-based British writer Suzanne Heathcote (executive story editor for the TV series Fear the Walking Dead) focuses on three generations of women in a fractured, fragmented family. Emotionally fragile Rebecca (Jacqueline Grandt), still grieving for a pet dog that died a year earlier, has taken in her 15-year-old niece, Sadie (Emma Maltby), because Sadie's dad, Jamie (Adam Bitterman), can't handle her (especially after she's kicked out of school when a sex video of her goes viral). Rebecca and Jamie's mother, Daphne (Kathleen Ruhl), wants to offer support, but her acerbic nature—and her daughter's lingering resentment that Daphne abandoned the family when they were kids—makes communication, well, complicated. This Chicago premiere features terrific, truthful performances under the sharp and sensitive direction of Erin Murray.

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Reviewed by Alexis Bugajski, PictureThisPost.com

All in the Family
Hundreds of people pass us by each day.
What would it be like if we said what we felt?
Said hello to someone who strikes our fancy?
Took hold of our own destinies?

Most of the time we’re afraid or we don’t have anyone encouraging us along the way. In Redtwist Theatre’s I SAW MY NEIGHBOR ON THE TRAIN AND I DIDN'T EVEN SMILE, we find having that support means everything.

Redtwist’s Three Generations of Women
The show is meant to explore three women’s personal issues and how they can ultimately help each other grow. After a newsworthy sex scandal in California, Sadie is sent to Illinois to live with her father, who then sends her to live with his sister Rebecca, and frequent visitor mother, Daphne.
Over the course of 90+ minutes, we unpack these women’s histories - why Sadie let herself be filmed by football players, why Rebecca has a trouble with relationships, and what Daphne has kept hidden from her family all these years. We’re taken through conflict after conflict in hopes things will look up for these women.

Dry-Humor Pops
Setting up our conflict, we begin with Rebecca and her brother Jamie played by Jacqueline Grandt and Adam Bitterman, respectively. At first, it seemed to this writer to take them a bit to fall into a natural rhythm so the dialogue felt a bit stilted.  But once more characters came into the scenes, they hit their stride. The dry, dead-pan humor coming from Sadie and Eric played by Emma Maltby and Joshua Servantez has the audience laughing out of surprise. And Daphne played by Kathleen Ruhl has some refreshingly blunt moments.

Feel Right at Home in the Redtwist Theatre
The set and costume designer, Arnel Sancianco and Kotryna Hilko, captured the essence of living in the blustery Midwest. Just in time as our own weather changes, our actors bundle up in winter coats, hats, and scarves. It makes us feel right at home with their theatrical conventions.

Set in the blackbox theater at Redtwist, the space could pass for a small apartment we’re all too familiar with here in Chicago—linoleum floors, 80s style ceiling light, and just enough room for a modest kitchen table and sofa. Though most of the action takes place here in Rebecca’s home, our actors move from place to place changing the scenery as need be.

Finding home or finding comfort in those who accept you for who you are was crucial for our three main ladies. Though they may be uncertain about what the future holds, at least they’re working towards a better tomorrow. I SAW MY NEIGHBOR ON THE TRAIN is a good fit for someone who has a taste for familial drama.

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