In “Her America” one lost soul embodies a nation’s discontents
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If the recent presidential election has revealed anything it is that the level of discontent, particularly among blue collar workers in this country’s Rust Belt cities and rural areas, is exceedingly high. In many ways they see themselves as members of a “lost generation” – a great swath of the population who once had good factory jobs, and houses, and an overall investment in the American Dream, but who have gradually found themselves unemployed or under-employed, left behind, angry, and above all, profoundly lost.
In “Her America,” the latest entry in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s “Solo Celebration!” series, playwright Brett Neveu gives us a one-woman show custom-made for Kate Buddeke, the award-winning Chicago and Broadway actress with a gift for playing damaged but still luminous survivors. And in many ways her character, Lori, encapsulates the national situation, and the aura of loneliness, fear, disappointment and quiet desperation that has caught so many in its grasp.
When: Through Feb. 12
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center,
2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $34 – $48
Info: (773) 404-7336;
Run time: 1 hour and
10 minutes with no intermission
Lori’s living situation is a perfect indication of just how upended her life has become. We find her holed up in the unfinished basement of her late mother-in-law’s house, surrounded by all the junk and memorabilia that suggests the woman was a classic hoarder. Upstairs the dogs that belong to her estranged husband, Dan – or to his best buddy, Norville – are scratching at the door. And having already been scratched by these four-legged creatures she has escaped to the lower depths of the house as something of a Miss Havisham of the working class.
While Lori moves restlessly around the basement, we are told that Dan and his now middle-aged high school buddies are hanging out in the garage or a car, and drinking. They have no money, no work, no motivation. And while both Dan and his pal Norville once played a role in Lori’s romantic life, she is now left with little more than a trunk full of memories of comparatively good times in the past – a time when an appliance factory kept most of this unnamed Midwest town humming, and the streets were full of families and the sounds of children.
The church comes into play here (“Jesus is watching you,” she was warned earlier in her life, and the warning has stuck with her). There are now Mexican neighbors on her street who become the target of resentment. There is a dark, fairy-tale-like nightmare to live through (Buddeke would make a great Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”). And there is a beautiful wedding gown. But mostly there is guilt. And sadness. And the sense that “men are just disappointed in how their lives came out.” And that God works in his own inexplicable ways.
While there also is a hint of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and William Inge at play here, there is no grandeur. The joy comes from watching how Buddeke (directed by Linda Gillum) creates such a mercurial, nuanced, at moments blackly comic, but mostly confused and disillusioned person as she rambles around Grant Sabin’s ideal set with its lighting by Richard Norwood, props by Holly McCauley and sound by Lindsay Jones.
Neveu, who plays often riff on the darker undercurrents at work in this country, sometimes seems to be stretching his story beyond the breaking point. But Buddeke makes it feel like an aria.