Review: Phoebe in Winter (Facility Theatre)

| October 3, 2018

Elliot Baker stars as Liam in Phoebe in Winter, Facility Theatre   


Phoebe in Winter

Written by Jen Silverman
Holy Trinity School, 1135 N. Cleaver (map)
thru Oct 27  |  tix: $25  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

Now extended thru October 27


Eerie, immersive ‘Phoebe’ an absurdist confection not to be missed


Maria Stephens and Jacob Alexander star as Phoebe and Jeremiah in Phoebe in Winter, Facility Theatre

Facility Theatre presents
Pheobe in Winter

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Descend into the bowels of a Polish Catholic school on Chicago’s West Side. You’re greeted by three tall figures in crowns and elaborate makeup, playing instruments and harmonizing haunting melodies. Go behind the black curtain and you’ll see the trappings of a family home: richly-colored rugs, bookcases and a dinner table made of dark wood. The latter is noticeably askew, balanced precariously on descending stairs. You wonder how the bowl of apples manages to stay put.

This is the world of Phoebe in Winter.

Director Dado is known throughout the city for her unconventional style. She’s a perfect fit for Jen Silverman’s postwar fable, where childhood impulses insert themselves into very adult issues. Phoebe in Winter is odd and funny and tragic and challenging. It’s 100 fast-paced minutes of role reversal, blackmail and reparations for the horrors of war, and the production itself contains nary a dull moment.

Silverman’s script puts the story’s two women and their power dynamics at the forefront. The titular Phoebe (Maria Stephens) holds up a father and two sons at gunpoint, accusing the sons of killing her brothers and insisting that, in return, they all become her new family. The maid, Boggett (Shawna Franks), has worked for the family forever, aware of every intimate nuance and detail. She’s ready to become a full-fledged sibling, and hey, one of the three brothers is missing in action! While the men of the family are often buffoons, first trying to understand Phoebe’s wishes – made more urgent by her rifle – and then descending into an immature war game that proves deadly.

Jacob Alexander (Jeremiah), Maria Stephens (Phoebe) and Elliot Baker (Liam) star in Phoebe in Winter, Facility Theat

Phoebe in Winter’s central relationship is between a wronged, grieving woman who wants to make things right at any cost, and the long-suffering domestic who, at her core, just wants to be loved. Both Stephens, with her hawkish physicality and relentless intensity, and Franks, single-minded in Boggett’s goal to be part of the family at last, display laser-sharp focus and crushing vulnerability. It’s rare to see two female characters face off the way they do, their back-and-forths nuanced and ever-heightening as the real battle begins.

By focusing the story on the women, Silverman presents a voice that’s often overlooked in wartime tales. Battle affects those on the homefront just as much as it does the soldiers on the front lines. Worry and subsequent grief manifests itself in ugly ways, even when fighters return, and Silverman gets this on a deep level. As the characters regress from discussions about literature to drinking out of the bottle, jumping on chairs and constructing barricades out of furniture, the audience gets it too.

Dado understands what many attempting absurdist theater do not: that careful choreography, deliberate decisions and tender moments are required for an effective production. Phoebe in Winter doesn’t hold back – blood spatters, water splashes, dishes are broken. However, every moment of this bizarre vaudeville is genuine. Truth can be found in weirdness. Many times, that’s the only place to find truth. And love her or hate her, Dado has established herself as queen of the weirdos. Bow down.

Rating: ★★★½

Phoebe in Winter continues through October 21st October 27th at Holy Trinity Church School, 1135 N. Cleaver (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 4pm.  Tickets are $25, and are available online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 100 minutes without intermission)

Elliot Baker stars as Liam in Phoebe in Winter, Facility Theatre

Photos by Leslie Schwartz




Maria Stephens (Phoebe), Kirk Anderson (Da Creedy), Shawna Franks (Boggett), Jacob Alexander (Jeremiah), David Dowd (Anther), Elliot Baker (Liam)

Understudies: Alex Levy (Jeremiah), Nick Barelli (Liam), Vijay Yadav (Da Creedy), Laurie Roberts (Boggett), Elliot Bibat (Anther), Dana Muelchi (Phoebe)

behind the scenes

Dado (director), Georgette Verdin (assistant director), Albert “Beep” Trefts (stage manager), Jordan Tragash (technical director), Joseph Wade (set design), Kotryna Hilko (costume design), Samantha Rausch (prop design), Mike Durst (lighting design), Matt Test (sound install), Sam Clapp (sound distribution and execution), Emmy Bean (composition, gramma vocals), Sarah Thompson Johansen, Zachary Angus (gramma vocals), Alex Monroe (great advice), Jamie Kreppein (assistant stage manager), Tom Daniel (set builder), Brent Ervin-Eickhoff (production manager), Maria Stephens (casting director), Sarah Ryan (marketing), Marco Siegel-Acevedo (graphic design), Kirk Anderson (artistic director), Shawna Franks (managing director), Leslie Schwartz (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Facility Theatre, Holy Trinity Church School, Lauren Emily Whalen

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