Regional Reviews: Chicago
OK, I admit it: I am an unabashed liberal and, to the extent that if I am religious at all, my faith resides in Unitarian Universalism, which demands of its members not to blindly follow someone else's theology but instead to build their own. Nonetheless, I found that this deep dive into the Southern Baptist mindset continually fascinated me, mostly due to the lead performance of Brittany Burch as Max, the aforementioned executive who finds herself immersed in the lifestyle of women who don't shy away from the word "obey" in their marriage vows and instead strive to "learn in quietness and full submission" to their husbands, as the Bible urges in 1 Timothy.
This more "traditional" view of marriage is represented by Alexandra Chopson's Beth, a younger woman who seems to have bought into it hook, line and sinker. But Beth, like Max, is hardly a one-note character adhering to a set of rules for life without questioning. Max's very presence at this Baptist training school for wives shows her willingness to try someone outside of her belief system, and Burch is incredible here, often saying more without words than with, whether sincerely trying to learn housewifely tasks and habits or boldly but silently asserting her disbelief in what she is seeing. (A late play stare-down across a table, after she learns that even avowed Baptists sometimes play loose with their rules, is as remarkable a piece of "face acting" as you are ever likely to see.)
For her part, Chopson's Beth appears to be an idealizing true believer, but there is a part of her that can't quite handle the fact that she knows she has a "calling" to the ministry but cannot act on it due to her faith's regulations. Chopson gives her character as much of an inner conflict as Burch's, even if it is less obvious and mostly manifests as a young woman's desire to proselytize her beliefs, especially when she sees others falling short of the mark. Beth's inner anger drives her every bit as much as Max's growing conviction that she has signed into some kind of school for "Stepford wives." Both actors have great fun with their roles and inner conflicts, though, whether it is Beth leaning over the end of a bunk bed to explain how to be a wife to the older and more experienced Max or Max's broadly comic attempts to clean windows.
There are three other actors in this play. Joe Edward Metcalfe plays Max's born-again husband Paul, who is studying to become a minister. (Apparently, the flagrant adultery doesn't disqualify him, but why should it when so many famous evangelists have succumbed to the temptation?) Kirsten Fitzgerald gives one of her usual standout performances as Terri, the woman in charge of the Homemaking House at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth (which is a real place). And Adam Shalzi provides a bit of both pathos and physical comedy in his late scene as Beth's fiancé Dusty. Of the three, Moench gives the most background to Paul. Not only do we see him with Max at home, but we also see him sitting in a hospital room as his erstwhile mistress lies in an unforgiving coma. (Set designer Grant Sabin has allowed for multiple defined locations on A Red Orchid's small space, and sound designer Jeffrey Levin keeps the sound of the heart monitor loud enough to be in the foreground but not to overpower Metcalfe's tearful monologues.)
Moench's script and dado's direction allow the audience multiple possible ways to interpret and react to all of this. In Quietness won't settle any left vs. right religious wars, but it will definitely make you think.
In Quietness runs through March 3, 2024, at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N.. Wells St, Chicago IL. For tickets and information, please visit aredorchidtheatre.org.