In his playbill notes for Strangeloop Theatre’s Strangers and Romance, director Doug Long states that this is playwright Barb Lhota’s time in Chicago theatre. Indeed, with two other productions besides Strangers currently running in the Windy City, Lhota is certainly a very present local playwright. But even if the two one acts that comprise Lhota’s refreshing Strangers and Romance were the only theatrical evidence on display, they would still undoubtedly ascertain her warm skill and humor soaked honesty.
The initial vignette of Strangers and Romance opens up on empty train station platform where a seemingly random couple engages in a game of mysterious role play. Soon, though, the couple’s familiarity is revealed and it is eventually implied that a dark secret lurks beneath their inventive imaginings. Here, Lhota allows her female character, Maddie, a sense of strength and resolve missing from Madison, her male counterpart. It is only through Maddie’s determination that she and Madison will be able to face down their past and continue into an uncertain future.
In the more comical second scenario, an uptight woman is interrupted in her all night vigil in a darkened church by a drunken stranger. Popping with dialogue that brims with mystery and comical energy, the two soon break through each other’s defenses and reveal themselves as only two foreigners can.
Director Long directs each piece with free economy and grace and guides each of his performers to moments of transcendent truth. If Tony Ketcham, as Madison in the show’s first half, and Stacie Barra, as the seemingly rigid Miriam in the show’s second installment, create the most indelible characters, it is only due to the support of their scene partners, Misti Patrella and Timothy C. Arros. Indeed, Ketcham’s throat catching sorrow and Barra’s insane sense of comic timing may have you crying both tears of sorrow and of joy.
Strangers and Romance runs until September 18 at the Trap Door Theatre on 1655 W. Cortland in Chicago. Tickets for the show are $10-$15 and can be purchased at strangelooptheatre.org or by calling 773-757-6689. —Brian Kirst