Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review of Eclipse Theatre's Natural Affection

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Natural Affection. It was by William Inge, and it was directed by Rachel Lambert. It is about a woman, Sue (Diana Coates), who was living with her boyfriend, Bernie (Luke Daigle), in Chicago in the 1960s. Her son, Donnie (Terry Bell), has just come back from a work farm where he had been sent for beating up a woman and stealing a car, and he has never met his mother's boyfriend before. She is trying to make up for having sent him to an orphanage as a baby and trying to make up for lost time. Then the neighbors arrive with festively-wrapped plot twists and lots of booze. This play is about parenthood, the difficulty of new beginnings, and not being able to escape your mistakes.

The relationship between Sue and Bernie was pretty distressing because Sue seems to be scared into loving him. She is so scared that he is going to leave her, that she takes more crap from him than she should. She seems to be fine--she could provide for herself--but she feels like she is not supposed to because of the traditional gender roles at the time. And Bernie even seems to get mad that she makes more money than he does and he doesn't seem to want her to be successful. He also says some very sexist things about women and refers to them as dames, which is one of my least favorite ways to refer to women. It was written in the 60s, so maybe the dame stuff was not as shocking or rude and we are only supposed to start disliking him when he starts being physically abusive. I think this is a very difficult relationship to decide how you feel about because in most shows you are rooting for the romance. Even when you realize that these people shouldn't be together, it is hard not to hope that he changes his ways. The relationship is what she wants, but it is not healthy. So you are torn between the characters having what they think they want and not being hurt.

One of the most interesting but distressing characters was Vince (Joe McCauley) who was an alcoholic who was gay but in the closet and took most of his anger out on his wife Claire (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason). I feel like he was the most troubling character because I wanted him to acknowledge a part of himself that might make him not turn to a substance for happiness. I think he did know he was gay, but he didn’t want to accept it because of the intolerance that was so present at that time. I felt sorry for his wife even though she didn't make the best decision about coping with her husband's substance abuse and his neglect of her needs if they didn't come in a package. Like he understands if she wants a new dress but not if she wants him to understand and love to her. The Christmas scene was especially heartbreaking and convincing. You could see the terror that Claire has. She doesn't really understand her husband's behavior and how "No" doesn't seem to mean "Stop" to him. And the way that alcohol incapacitates him to hear reason is really heartbreaking.

There is an underlying tone of sadness in the entire play. Even when things seem to be going well, something immediately comes along and shuts it down. Like when Donnie comes home from getting new clothes and has gotten a new rock and roll record and starts twisting with his mom, Bernie comes in and tells them it is too loud. Every bit of happiness seems to get degraded slightly so there is never a moment of true hope. It is especially true for Donnie because he was not the product of a planned pregnancy and later on in his life he was left by his mother in an orphanage and was no longer a daily part of her life. Even what feels like a happy reunion has dark undertones because of Donnie's relationship with his mother in the past. It seems like the reason why he hurts other people is because of his mother. He doesn't want to hurt her but he is angry at her, so he takes it out on random strangers. The love that he feels for his mother turns into violence against other people. The mother does this too in another way. She takes out her anger on her son because she feels a duty to her boyfriend that she doesn't feel to her son because he wasn't planned. But she also feels guilt for sending him to the home in the first place, which is really complicated. She takes out stuff on the person she doesn't feel should exist in her life, which is a really sad thing to think about. This was my first Inge play. It was very interesting and it had amazing performances, but it seemed like all the characters had a lot of problems and not a lot of hope. You feel like it is going to end badly from the beginning.

People who would like this show are people who like dark undertones, rock and roll records, and realistic drunks. I think that this is a really well-performed, powerful, and heartbreaking show. I really liked it.

Photos: Scott Dray

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