Cal in Camo by the Rivendale Theatre Ensemble follows the story of Cal (Ashley Neal) and her husband Tim (Eric Slater) as they struggle with the compromises of becoming a family in the remote town of Sterling, Illinois. Cal, a new mother experiencing postpartum depression, and Tim, a failing beer salesman, are forced to confront their plethora of issues when Cal’s brother Flynt (Keith Kupferer) comes to visit. Grieving his recently deceased wife, Flynt’s simple and blunt demeanour unearth Cal and Tim’s true wants in life as well as secrets that they keep from each other. These revelations of hypocrisy, pride, and fear serve to test the very fabric of the life they have built for themselves as they come to grips with the definition of what it means to be a family.
The triumph of this play is the symbolism in which it builds itself on. The production’s themes are paired perfectly with metaphors that embellish the issues of Cal and Tim’s life together. The show’s stage of a disorganized starter home underscores how unprepared Cal and Tim are to be a family, the crying baby illustrates the consequences of their arguing, and the ever increasing rain mirrors the tension felt between each of the characters (just to name a few). The collaboration between the writing and set design teams is apparent; the attention to detail is highly commendable. The synergies of the scenes with the situations of the characters build a strong framework for the actors to deliver powerful performances.
And deliver they do: the ensemble is incredibly strong for this run. It is clear that the actors put in long hours to get to know the complexities of their characters because their range of emotion for each of them is fantastic. A high octane domestic spat between Cal and Tim would be followed by a somber reflection on family between Cal and Flynt. This normally jarring transition felt like it made sense, however, due to the way the actors were able to express how deep and damaged each of their characters are in each of their respective scenes. The actors made you feel these character’s heartbreak to incredible effect.
It is a nitpick, then, when I mention that not all plot threads are wrapped up in a satisfying way. The nature of the themes do not allow for an ending that has an easy conclusion, but there are a few plot ideas that are introduced only to be forgotten later. The introduction of the antique rifle comes to mind: the discovered value of the gun gives the characters hope that their money problems will go away, but the play ends before we really know what they do with this information. While these are not critical to the theming and don’t contribute to the power of the production, they serve more as a distraction from the stories and secrets of each of the characters.
Cal in Camo is a powerful production that will weigh on you after the final blackout. It is an exploration into the hopeless yet hopeful nature of a family in disarray complemented by incredibly strong acting and scene design. The strength of this production is not to be missed.
Review by Ryan Moore
Cal in Camo continues at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble through February 17. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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