Lanford Wilson’s The Sand Castle describes a day in the life of a seemingly normal and happy Californian family, which we soon discover is neither normal nor happy. Theatre Seven of Chicago’s rendition of the one act discusses not only the fragility of relationships between family and friends, but also turns its focus inward, questioning how one ought to make a play in the first place.
Director Brian Golden thoughtfully renders what he calls “a true forgotten classic of the American theatre.” In several meta moments, characters ask, “Is this what should happen? Is this how the play should be written?” Such a self-conscious work could easily have been made awkward had the actors fumbled the constant shifting from their characters’ voices to the author’s voice and back. Fortunately, this was not (usually) a problem. While the beginning of the show was slightly choppy and confusing, Theatre Seven’s production at Chopin Theatre was impressive because in the end, the actors managed to make the story seem real and emotionally compelling despite the interruptions in the plot.
The Sand Castle describes the family, friends, and boyfriend of a widowed poet named Irine (Annie Slivinski), an independent, successful woman who likes to show other people how smart she is. The story begins with the entire family reading, a tip-off of how intellectual the play becomes. The play succeeds in portraying how people can be at once very, very capable and incredibly screwed up. Everyone in the family is either successful or has potential, and yet each of them is incredibly unhappy and fundamentally needy.
Irine’s character must cope with two conflicting desires: the longing to be her own person and the longing to be close to another person. Within the first few minutes of the play, Irine’s boyfriend Clint (Chris Popio) proposes, to which Irine delivers a long speech, ending in her refusal to answer his question. Slivinski plays Irine very gracefully, given that her character is quite difficult to play. Irine is so fiercely independent, snide, and arrogant that it is at first rather hard to relate to her. By the end of the production, however, the audience warms to Irine because of the subtle ways Slivinski shows that Irine genuinely loves her family and is willing to make profound sacrifices in order to keep peace at home.
Despite its female heroine, the men of the production steal the show—and the hearts of the audience. The Sand Castle portrays male vulnerability very well, without resorting to the trope that men are emasculated by the fact they have feelings. The play’s men are macho men, yet they can fall deeply in love, feel terribly lonely, and be completely powerless. Both Irine’s boyfriend, Clint (Chris Popio), and her son Owen (Joel Reitsma), were in love with women whom they did not think cared as much for them as they cared for her, and the actors who played these parts powerfully demonstrated the kind of suffering that is caused by the reality or even the perception of unrequited love.
The most outstanding performance is that of Reitsma, whose heartbreaking monologue demonstrates just how much Owen worships the woman he cannot have. In the role of Kenny, Irine’s youngest son, actor David Rayman does a beautiful job; without saying much, he shows the audience how confused and frustrated the young boy is around his family, and how much the boy wishes that things could be different. Even Joshua Rollins, who plays by far the least likeable character (a family friend, Calvin), does a good job making the audience feel his frustration, even though they may not sympathize with it.
Overall, Theatre Seven succeeds with its production of this very thoughtful play, which asks us to deeply consider the effects of our actions and the meaning of loyalty to friends and family.