Icing sugar

The Chill on Lake St. Clair

By Michael F. Bruck
Directed by Neal Sims
A Spotlight on Production
Pulse Theatre
432 W. 42nd St. (532-8887)
Equity showcase (closes June 24)
Review by Julie Halpern

Michael Bruck's harrowing new play received an auspicious premiere by the talented ensemble of Spotlight on Productions. Bruck pays homage to the great film noir plots of the 1940s, with mysterious twists, covered-up murders, and disturbing sexual obsessions hidden for years within the frigid environs of a small Michigan town. A high-school reunion brings together Brandon and Gina, two old friends, with little in common except that Brandon was once engaged to Gina's sister Christina, who died in a suspicious accident 20 years ago. Brandon has gone on with his life, establishing himself as an attorney in Manhattan, but Gina seems caught in a 1970s time warp, unable to move beyond the time spent with Brandon and Christina decades ago. Trapped in a dead-end job as bookkeeper and living with her elderly mother, Kate, an Italian immigrant, whom she obviously despises, her life is frustrating and lonely. Kate seems to be the injured party, but on closer observation it becomes apparent that Kate has never loved Gina.

Gina has been obsessed with Brandon since her childhood, and has hated her sister, who she believed stole Brandon from her. Brandon is unaware of Gina's feelings and has never thought of her romantically. He only visits the house to talk about old times with the widowed Kate, who is still devastated by her daughter's death. The deluded Gina believes he comes to see her. A snowstorm strands Brandon at Gina and Kate's home, and after too many drinks, the grotesque secrets of two decades are finally revealed.

Eric McMahon was a handsome, sensitive Brandon, but his boyish mannerisms were not quite believable for a sophisticated 43-year-old Manhattan attorney. Julie Zimmermann was a magnificent Gina. A cool, compelling beauty, with an arid Midwestern accent, her seemingly impenetrable aloofness gave way to an avalanche of emotion in an unforgettable performance. Zimmermann's work was complemented by the fiery passion of Louise Gallanda's Kate. Kate is Gina's emotional opposite, and their scenes together had the heartbreaking urgency of an accident about to happen. Director Neal Sims flawlessly paced the vivid production, with a taut, heart-stopping energy.

Bruck's characters are extraordinary, but some judicious editing might clear up uncertainties about what Brandon and Gina's lives have been like for the past 20 years, such as why the financially self-sufficient Gina has subjected herself and her mother to living in the same house, when the arrangement is mutually destructive.

Tommy Barz and Neal Sims's depressing set was redolent of tacky Midwest comfort circa 1950. The unattractive environment was rendered even less appealing by Louis Lopardi and Kane Tung's harsh, ungelled lights, which were too bright at the front of the stage and left the actors in darkness upstage. The lights also made the attractive cast look pasty and unhealthy. Diane Lopez's costumes were appropriate for the characters.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

Return to Volume Six, Number Forty Index

Return to Volume Six Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern