Total Rating: 
April 2, 2017
Organic Theater Company
Theater Type: 
The Greenhouse
Theater Address: 
2257 North Lincoln Avenue
Barbara Lhota

Barbara Lhota's fondness for procedurals is no secret to playgoers familiar with the canon of this prolific playwright. Although employed most often in crime stories, this literary construct may be applied to any plot proposing a riddle at the outset and then gradually disclosing — in infinitesimal increments, and not necessarily in chronological order — the information necessary to connect the dots until the complete picture is revealed.

Phantom Pain, this latest hunt-for-the-prize, even inserts a significant disclosure midway, lest impatient audiences tune out altogether. Whether you heed your suspicions (and risk spoiling the surprise ending) or wait for the Big Revelation, is up to you.

The setting is Marnie and Meg's chic city apartment, where Marnie is preparing cocktail fare in anticipation of a visit by childhood chum Bets (diminutive of "Betty"). Also dropping by is Angela, another former parochial-school classmate and fellow Brownie Scout from the blue-collar Detroit neighborhood feeling the impact of racial tensions precipitated by a deteriorating economy.

After the quartet settles in with a pitcher of Cosmopolitans, the questions begin to pile up: How did seven-year-old Marnie and Bets once come to suffer a furious and unprovoked beat-down? Who chased Angela into the street and under a bus, resulting in her losing one of her legs? What did it mean that the teenage boys who attacked Norse/Celtic Marnie and Bets were black and those pursuing African-American Angela were white? Did this make one atrocity worse than the other? Oh — and why is Bets bringing this up again after all this time?

Lhota is also fond of flashbacks, devoting nearly half the 90 minutes of her play's duration to scenes swiftly cutting away from the extemporaneous inquest to re-enact the events of 20 years ago. These are signaled by abrupt lighting changes lending the narrative progress a strobe-like ambience demanding a period of acclimation, despite the agility with which our four actors make the transition from the pre-adolescent girls they were, to the women they have become.

Meg, the outsider, contributes the term "defining experience" and a consciousness-raising game designed to measure social privilege, further highlighting the symposial nature of discourse revolving on a checklist of minority-rights curricula to delay what we really want to know. Under Laura Sturm's direction, however, a well-rehearsed ensemble, surrounded by Austin Wood and Alexis Yordan's move-in ready decor, render the author's agenda sufficiently conversational to keep our curiosity piqued for this world premiere in need of only a slight tweak or two.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 3/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
March 2017