Broom Street Theater opens its 2012 season with Autumn Shiley's On the Corner of Clark and Vine, an elegy on the loss of loved ones that is really a collage of video, music, dance, poetry and acting. At its best moments, it is a heartfelt exploration of what it means to be the one left behind by death. (In other moments, it brings to mind those overwrought Calvin Klein Obsession TV commercials.)
In addition to writing the play, Shiley stars in it and co-directs with Heather Renken. Shiley is above all a gifted writer, and though I sometimes grew weary of the action or the acting, I was always able focus on the words and their sincerity and beauty.
Shiley plays Maggie, who has come undone after losing her lover, Danny (Collin Erickson, who always surprises with that deep, resonant voice of his). We see fleeting glimpses of their relationship, both onstage and in images projected onto the makeshift screen created by a sheet draped across a piano. Maggie reflects on her childhood, her life with Danny and the emptiness and confusion that now shape her days.
Also coping with death, despair and loneliness is Frank (Don Dexter), whose wife Linda has passed away. His grief has taken him to an even darker place, and he is visited by memories of his wife as a young and old woman (Phrannie Lyons and Mary Fairweather Dexter, respectively). Playing multiple roles (cab driver, priest and so on) is Dan Myers. Maggie and Frank cross paths, and their accounts of that intersection are touching.
Shiley has a talent for underscoring the pathos of her words with theatrical elements that are handled smoothly by Broom Street's technical team. When Maggie and Danny embrace and tussle under a sheet while shining a flashlight, the moment seems both possible and larger than life. When she gingerly lowers herself in a bathtub in a halo of light, the effect is riveting in its gorgeous simplicity.
Shiley's performance has many nice moments. Whether she is gently bringing her hands to cover her eyes, or staring blankly, splayed out on the floor while telling the story of a car accident, the lovely, angular planes of her face bring to mind a sad Modigliani model. Dexter, with his thick salt and pepper hair and strong brows, is best when his despair has transformed into anger, which he heaps on his priest in confession.
I have complained that Broom Street shows often try to be too provocative, with sex toys and squawking puppets flying around. This show is grounded and mature without losing that quintessential Broom Street spirit.