‘Five Mile Lake’ at Shattered Globe: Siblings, distant or demanding, all in the swim together
Review: “Five Mile Lake” by Rachel Bonds, produced by Shattered Globe at Theatre Wit, through Feb. 24. ★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Rachel Bonds’ play “Five Mile Lake,” a provocative slice of life currently held up for examination by Shattered Globe Theatre, is about lives out of kilter, out of perspective, out of pitch. Before the play even begins, Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s disorienting set tells you as much.
In a small Pennsylvania town near a lake, Jamie and Mary, friends from high school now pushing 30, serve up coffee and muffins at a café. Jamie, who also cares for his ailing mom and chips away at remodeling his house, is a contented soul. He’d be happy as a lark if Mary would return his undying affection. But she does not.
Mary is far from happy. She went off to college and studied French, thinking maybe she’d get her master’s degree and then just keep on going – to Paris, have an adventurous life, sleep with a painter. But her father died and her brother Danny came home a psychological wreck after multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. So much for the master’s and Paris.
They’re both just doing what they do, brewing coffee and organizing the muffins, when out of the blue, in walks Jamie’s older brother Rufus with a gorgeous woman on his arm. Wow, brilliant, worldly Rufus, well into his doctoral dissertation on the topic of lamentation in Greek tragedy. And this stunning woman, his girlfriend Peta, who turns out to be a magazine editor. They just decided to take a quiet timeout for a few days, Rufus explains.
Well, yes and no. Rufus, played by Joseph Wiens with imposing presence and fragile psyche, is stuck. For a year he’s been going through the motions on his dissertation, retreating to a library carrel, reading, taking notes – and then writing the same paragraph over and over.
But Rufus immediately and repeatedly brags about this beauty at his side, to her embarrassment. In Aila Peck’s portrayal, Peta is clearly bright and appealing, but also a bit circumspect. Unlike Rufus, she’s fully engaged in her magazine job. There’s another matter, though, oppressive and distressing to her core.
Peta is Rufus’ badge of achievement. Perhaps the plain term is trophy. Nothing else is going right in his life, but he can parade this lovely woman who cares about him. Maybe he returns the sentiment. In any case, she certifies him; and that, together with his pursuit of a topic as lofty as lamentation in Greek tragedy, preserves Rufus’ station as intellectual star and all-around superior guy: He well might have walked across that old lake to pass judgment on the underachieving Jamie. Indeed, Rufus freely second guesses the choices and values of his still small-town — and busy, useful, happy — brother.
As the one character in view who seems to know himself, Steve Peebles’ Jamie is an endearing romantic, enamored of workmate Mary and now, in his maturity, able to push back when his fabulous brother starts spewing criticism. The warmth and constancy that Peebles brings to Jamie lend the story a needed center, the port amid these several storms.
If you get the feeling that Jamie will always be OK, you come away wondering what will become of Mary, still young and hopeful, but also face to face with the hard, limiting reality of a brother whose needs may forever trump her own. Daniela Colucci offers a multifaceted image of a woman who got reeled back to earth in mid-leap. When Rufus tells Mary all she has to do is leave, Colucci’s face could light the way out. But Rufus doesn’t have a dependent brother broken by the awfulness of war.
Danny, the damaged sibling, appears in just two scenes of this compact 90-minute play directed by Cody Estle, but that’s opportunity enough for Drew Schad to frame a shattered man with a trigger-quick temper, who can’t keep a job and must ask his sister for a few bucks to buy a pizza.
As for Rufus and his beauty, they blow in and they blow out. Timeout’s over. Back to those ancient lamentations. Maybe we’ve just seen the Greek chorus.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreInChicago.com