Never before has my Catholic upbringing been helpful in seeing theater. And yet, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to catechism class during Refracted Theatre Company’s inaugural production, St. Sebastian. Not because I was waxing nostalgic for dry wafers or bitter pinot noir, but because the text of this new work is so mind-bogglingly preachy.
The new play by Andrew Kramer (directed by Graham Miller) centers on house flipper newbie Ben (Adam Thatcher) and his partner Gideon (Mack Spotts) who inadvertently move into a Black neighborhood in Chicagoland. Gideon’s background as a DEI consultant in this predicament fills him with relentless guilt, which leads to a series of lectures on gentrification and rhetoric. (Even as someone finishing a graduate degree in rhetoric, this was too much.)
St. SebastianThrough 10/2: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, refractedco.com, $18
Beyond that, there is a dog or wolf or coyote or something that goes bump in the night, a neighbor kid named Reuben (Nolan Robinson) continuously stealing the show, and at least four plot points that go ultimately unresolved. We’re given so many storylines that are fascinating, yet all end up as dead ends.
So much happens in the course of the 90 minutes that it’s clear the playwright was trying to do far too much. The script needs significant shaping before it’s ready for another full production.
It’s always ambitious for a new company to do brand-new work. While the trio of performers is excellent in their roles, even their charisma can’t save this script from purgatory. Thatcher and Spotts give so much to these characters without a lot of scripted development to go on. Robinson is an absolute marvel (his love of superheroes makes this pun intended) who warrants his own story. I desperately want to know the backstory behind some of his one-off lines.
Also, on the subject of actors, please always hire an intimacy director when a script calls for it. The irony isn’t lost that there is a Catholic side story (in a tale called St. Sebastian) and yet there was seemingly no authority on how to do intimacy work safely. Saint Monica, patron saint of patience, help us.