Sounds of crickets filled the intimate space at the Raven Theatre (6157 N. Clark St.) Oct. 7 and light slipped through tall wood panels mimicking trees on the stage. The stage, though small, suggested an entire world and transported the audience to the woods of Tennessee.
Making its Chicago premiere, the play “Sundown, Yellow Moon” opened Oct. 3. Written by Rachel Bonds and directed by Cody Estle, the play follows the story of a father and his twin daughters as each of them approach turning points in their lives.
The story begins as twins Joey (Diana Coates) and Ray (Liz Chidester) are pulled from their shared New York City apartment and drawn back to their hometown in rural Tennessee when their aging father loses his job.
Amid the stress of their father’s situation, the two sisters also deal with the looming fact they’re about to be apart for the first time. Joey is a few weeks away from leaving for Germany and Ray is entirely unsure how to react. There’s a palpable tension between the two sisters as they struggle to grasp this reality. This tension is communicated through interactions between the sisters that are well-acted and relatable.
In the first half of the play, Ray is the central character. The audience experiences her resentment toward her sister and the creative block she feels as a result of these overwhelming emotions. Ray, a musician, can’t seem to write any new songs.
Both actors give a vividness to their respective characters. While Coates communicated what it’s like to be on the brink of a dramatic change in life, Chidester expressed the frustration and restlessness of a creative block with her performance.
The scenes in the show were enhanced by mellow music that create a sense of continuity throughout. The show features pre-recorded songs by the folk-rock duo The Bengsons.
In several scenes, the family sings together on their front porch. The music added intimacy to the show and is part of what makes the show unique and moving. The audience is able to develop a deeper understanding and connection to the characters as they witness expression through music.
Each character in the play struggles in their own unique way, however they all share a common feeling of being stuck. Side characters and residents of the small Tennessee town, Carver (Jordan Dell Harris) and Ted (Josh Odor) — whose lives become interwoven with both sisters — bury themselves in a creative block. In one profound scene, Ted tells Joey he can’t seem to write any poems, his mind is obsessed with comparing himself to everyone else. The ways in which the story addresses the all too familiar worn-out feeling that life sometimes gives is a definite strength in the show.
The remedy to this stuck and stranded state, Joey suggests, is to go deeper into the woods. To search inwardly and become uncomfortable with all the uncertainties and subsequent darkness. At some point, Joey says, “your eyes will adjust to the darkness.”
“Sundown, Yellow Moon” communicates the ways in which music and artistic expression can ground and heal people. Throughout the show’s 95-minute duration, the audience witnesses its characters grapple with their own issues and then come back to the comfort of music.
“Sundown, Yellow Moon,” will be playing at the Raven Theatre until Nov. 17. Tickets start at $15 for students and can be purchased at www.raventheatre.com.