By Jason Morr
Terrance McNally's gay play Lips Together, Teeth Apart has always been a flawed script. However, with a solid cast and a director with a full understanding of the material, the play can easily be a very interesting experience - especially for audiences today that may have forgotten how much truly has changed in our society in the the past twenty-five years since the play debuted. Unfortunately, Eclipse Theater's clunky, poorly-shaped production handles the material so poorly that I found it to be an almost damaging experience - one that homophobes and bigots could watch in a masturbatory fashion not unlike marathons of Duck Dynasty.
Ted Hoerl, the production's director, is known to make bold choices to mixed results. However, he stages the play quite well for the most part, aside from the moments in which actors less than a foot away from each other are suddenly deaf to everything going on around them. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, even though the design squeezes an entire deck, pool, kitchen and beach into the Atheneum's tiny space.
Carin Silkaitis as Chloe leads the cast with a vibrant energy. She's lovable even though her character isn't. Her husband, played by Eclipse Theatre's Artistic Director, Nathaniel Swift, fails to meet her there. His lack of chemistry with the other performers makes Silkaitis' performance as his wife Chloe even more impressive. Luckly, the other cast members (Kristin Collins and Dennis Grimes) are much closer to Silkaitis' level than Swift's. Both have moments of near-brilliance, but others of muddled confusion. As I said before - this is a script that is damn near impossible to get right. However, it doesn't appear Hoerl provided as much guidance as he should have to his performers in the weaker moments.
It's unfortunate that in a city as progressive as Chicago and with a gay playwright as renowned as McNally, a pro-LGBT script can be presented in such a backwards way. For the first time in a while, I say with full confidence that there is almost nothing worth seeing here. While the performances and direction here are worth noting, they certainly don't overpower the play's three hour run time or the lack of spark between actors.
Lips Together, Teeth Apart runs at the Atheneum Theatre through May 24th. More information: http://www.eclipsetheatre.com/
5/26/15 Edit: Earlier today, an unapproved version of this review was posted. This was due to a glitch in the site. The rough draft of the article has since been replaced with the final version.