If "Moby-Dick" is a tale of men at sea staring down a whale (plus a few metaphors along the way), then Egan Reich's "Breach," in a production from Dog & Pony, is the story of the women left behind.
Set in Sag Harbor, N.Y., in 1870, the play centers on five women — all recently widowed, having just learned of their husbands' shipwreck — who steel themselves with a bit of booze before heading out into the dead of night to the water, where they find a beached whale. What irony. The very beast their men were hunting for its oil — the reason their men died — is sitting there on the sand, dying, as if offering itself as some kind of life insurance payout.
It's such a rich premise, and the first two scenes, when all that whiskey is gulped, are hushed, unfolding in a nearly dark anteroom to the theater space. These are the strongest moments in director Krissy Vanderwarker's production — mysterious and full of unease, with the vaguely comical sounds of unseen townspeople snoring nearby.
Once the women reach the water (and we the audience take our seats), the story doesn't have much place to go: There is a whale to be slaughtered and its blubber harvested. The women remove their corsets and get to work.
The stakes should be enormous; if they succeed, substantial funds await, but it is unclear what their future holds if they fail. Which makes their desperation feel somewhat theoretical, even as their resolve fractures and conflicts (particularly between Caroline Kingsley's alpha female and Diana Slickman's conservative, by-the-book elder of the group) threaten to put an end to their quest, be it folly or saving grace.
Through Feb 16 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.; tickets are $25 at dogandponychicago.org
A yuppie black couple buys a two-flat on the North Side in the hopes of renting out the spare apartment to another black couple who could use a leg up and a nicer place to live. This comes as inconvenient news to the white couple residing in said apartment.
Race and real estate make for provocative intertwined themes when the setting is Chicago, and at first you think Laura Jacqmin's drama is a nod in the direction of "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Clybourne Park."
And yet, as the second act in Ann Filmer's production nears its climax, there is little question that Jacqmin is thinking of another play altogether: Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," which pivots away from the black couple to the white couple (a delicate Meghan Reardon and Rob Fagin, giving it his slimeball best).
This seems like a mistake for many reasons, but the Ibsen echo comes to dominate, for better or for worse. Jacqmin goes so far as to name the woman Nora and marry her to a controlling man with dubious financial dealings at work.
But the black couple who own the apartment (played by LaNisa Frederick and Kyle Haden) are reduced to little more than straw men.
There's a good deal of focus on economic class, and the discomfort that often ensues, much to Jacqmin's credit. But too much here doesn't ring true, particularly Fagin's character, who is far too squishy to capture the hard-charging personality of someone who works in finance.
Through March 1 at 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th St., Berwyn; tickets are $18 at 16thstreettheater.org
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