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Chicago by John Olson

Calls to Blood
The New Colony

History Boys
Sarah Gitenstein, Gary Tiedemann
The New Colony promotes this new drama by James Asmus as the story of a couple trying to conceive their first child. Based on that description, you might think it's a concept that's been done before, but you would be wrong. The couple in question stumbles on a secret that is not revealed in the show's publicity and I won't reveal it here, but trust me that once again, The New Colony has gone to a place most theatre companies wouldn't even think to go.

Calls to Blood starts out looking like a romantic comedy. The aforementioned couple, the very loving and seemingly uncomplicated Jacob and Alison (Gary Tiedemann and Sara Gitenstein) have attempted to fix up their friends Kirk and Suellen, but their matchmaking hasn't gone so well. Attorney Kirk (Evan Linder) has a bit of an attitude and a belief he's much wittier than the other three find him to be. Suellen (Mary Hollis Inboden) sees through his act and isn't buying it, showing her disdain for the way Kirk continually reminds his listeners that he's an attorney, noting that he said he was "redirecting" while segueing into a new topic of conversation. Asmus has a great way with dry, understated humor and director Andrew Hobgood keeps his cast realistically low-keyed. The tone shifts to comedy-drama territory when the conversation turns to Jacob and Alison's admission of their problems conceiving despite their best efforts. When their secret is revealed, though, we're deep into the sort of tragedy Tennessee Williams might have explored.

The difficulty in telling this story reportedly based on events that actually happened to some friends of Asmus is there's no place to go once the revelation is made. The setup is effective in building empathy for the couple, but the truth that's revealed is one from which no happy resolution is possible and no amount of processing will allow one to become at peace with it. We can give Asmus credit for not pretending any differently, but the story is really more of an event than a journey and it's not enough to fill out a full-length play. (It's about 75 minutes, plus an intermission much needed to give relief from the tension).

After the secret is revealed, Asmus gives more stage time to the wise-cracking friends than to the couple, providing more comic relief than is actually appropriate. He seems most at home with humorous dialogue and is quite good at capturing the banter of well-educated young professionals. It's clear Asmus knows Kirk and Suellen better than he does Jacob and Alison, whom he keeps saintly while their friends are amusingly flawed. He seems more distanced from Jacob and Alison, more an observer of their problems as are Kirk and Suellen. Tiedemann and Gitenstein give honest performances as the married couple, believable even in their most histrionic moments; but Linder and Inboden are able to have more fun, displaying solid comic timing as the friends.

If you see Calls to Blood, you'll understand why Asmus felt a need to tell the story, even if it might have been better served up as a short story or a subplot in a larger play. Maybe he'll try that at some point, or maybe he just had to get this haunting story on paper and out of his head. Either way, his skill in writing sharp comic dialogue shows he's a writer to watch.

Calls to Blood will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm at The Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago. Closes November 28th. Show Passes are $25 General Admission, $20 for Seniors, and $15 for Students/Industry. Passes are on sale online through TicketMaster or by calling the Royal George Box Office at (312) 988-9000. All Passes to New Colony productions allow the purchaser to see the show for which the Pass was purchased an unlimited number of times.


Photo: Anne Petersen

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-- John Olson



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