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THEATER REVIEW Hot Georgia Sunday
by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: Catherine Trieschmann. At: Haven Theatre Company at the Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 773-697-3930; www.haventheatrechicago.com ; $30. Runs through: Dec. 21

A sweltering day in the rural Deep South, when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees and the air conditioners crash, can make for volatile environmental conditions leading otherwise rational citizens to seek escape from the irritations, big and small, engendered by the torpid climate. Too often, however, their methods of achieving gratification are rooted in plans founded on impulse rather than rational premeditation—especially when the six narrators recounting the events of the fatal Sabbath giving the play its title don't set much store by that trait, nohow.

The witnesses are an honest all-American lot: Jenny Vickery and Tara Carpenter are both in their early teens, oozing the hormonal miasma associated with that growth stage. Jenny's older sister, Flora, and her boyfriend, Robby Wicks, express their affection in playful annoyance—as when the former inflicts a deep scratch on the latter's car ( "to show him I care" ). Jenny and Flora's father Glenn is the church janitor, his job performance so far unimpaired by his alcohol intake. Pastor Thompson, himself a single father with five rambunctious children, has his hands full keeping his flock from straying too far off the path of righteousness.

Then Flora and Robby's injuries to property escalate to bodily violence, Tara is caught having sex with the youth minister, Glenn undergoes a road-to-Damascus awakening and all you-know-what breaks loose.

Ironically, this material is not presented as stereotypical hee-haw-hick humor. What distinguishes Catherine Trieschmann's universe is the unswerving conviction with which its inhabitants justify their actions, repeatedly assuring us of their innocent intentions. Unfortunately, the same myopic logic that permits each misguided step to flow inexorably from the one preceding it appears to have infected its author as well, turning what could have been an uplifting parable of how good can emerge from wickedness into a cynical caveat on the futility of challenging the status quo.

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A playwright who doesn't know when to stop writing is no disgrace. This being a world-premiere production, Trieschmann has opportunities to decide whether she wants her yarn to finish as a comedy or a tragedy. In the meantime, director Marti Lyons and the Haven Theatre company members ensure that we sympathize with these humble mortals struggling for a few moments of petty happiness. If their industry cannot wholly cushion the disappointment engendered by our author's ultimate betrayal of her characters, it's enough to stifle the snickers of city-bred playgoers pretending superiority to their country kin.

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