7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Carpenter Square Theatre
400 W. Sheridan
$19 adults, $16 students
In music, a fugue is a composition that features a repeating theme comprised of two or more voices that are independent of “ and at times competing with “ each other. The term was later used to describe a rare psychiatric phenomenon “ a fugue state “ in which a person experiences a temporary loss of memory and personality caused by extreme stress or psychological trauma.
In the award-winning play “Fugue” by Lee Thuna, the musical metaphor is merged with the mental condition so that the competing voices belong to the memories of people and experiences from which the main character is running.
The work opens with the discovery of a woman wandering the streets of Chicago with blistered, bloody feet. Dubbed Mary Smith, she is brought to the hospital where young psychiatrist Dr. Lucchesi, seemingly running from his own past, is assigned to help her recovery her memories.
Through their sessions, fragments of memories “ like parts of a musical theme “ begin to emerge like ghosts, embodied as characters from her past that interact with her on stage. As Dr. Lucchesi and Mary begin to piece together who she really is, they are both forced to confront demons from their past.
Directed by Brett Young, Carpenter Square’s “Fugue” is an elegantly staged play, well-paced and quite engaging, with strong production values and a tour de force performance from Lilli Bassett that is worth the price of admission alone. As the amnesiac Mary, Bassett has the opportunity to play an impressive range of emotions and states of mind throughout the character’s ordeal, and all of them feel real and honest. It’s a performance of great depth that brings tears to my eyes just recalling it.
Supporting her is a strong ensemble cast. Brenda Williams does solid work as Zelda, capturing her potentially duplicitous motives while staying grounded as a character. Mike Waugh conveys the stuffy professionalism of Dr. Oleander while also bringing out all the comedy inherent in such an straight character.
He also brings out the best in Ryan Swartz, who plays Dr. Lucchesi, during their conflicts over treating Mary. With a tendency toward delivering lines with a rehearsed, rather than natural quality, Swartz’s work opposite Bassett is one of the play’s few disappointments.
Angie Duke brings a great deal of gravity and heart to the role of Mary’s mother, creating a complete portrait of a flawed, but loving parent. Some of her scenes with Bassett rank among the play’s best and most moving.
There are a lot of transitions in the play as characters from Mary’s past move in and out of scenes, creating a real challenge for Bassett, who has take several intense emotional turns on a dime, all of which she pulls off with grace. These frequent shifts in setting are brilliantly executed with tight choreography perfectly synchronized with Amy Ackerman’s excellent lighting design in Young’s attractive and cleverly designed multifunctional set.
Well-written, expertly technically executed and featuring one of the best performances by an actress I’ve had the pleasure to see on a local stage, “Fugue” is a must-see. “Eric Webb