In its world premiere, the lean The House of Lily has a lot going on. Although Curt Columbus's efficient staging of Lydia Stryk's drama clocks in at around 65 minutes, the show packs in a lot of ideas, plot elements and in-depth characterization. Stryk has a gift for the lyrical when putting speeches into her characters' mouths ( and they are very much speeches, often bordering on soliloquies ) , but this new playwright still has miles to go before she crafts a work of true emotional resonance.
The House of Lily is the simple story of Lily, an intellectual lesbian professor who has led an ordered and comfortable, albeit unremarkable life. Lily ( played with conviction and a sense of certainty that is almost smug by Steppenwolf ensemble member Martha Lavey ) has a sense of order that borders on neurotic; she sees things in black-and-white terms and as her friend Gina often tells her, "you know everything."
Lily's world begins to come apart when she brings her aging father home to live with her. Afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, father Zig is a silver-haired handsome man, played perfectly by Gary Wingert, who captures the older man's confusion over a life that has moved just out of his reach with suitable sympathy and, at times, anger. Lily expects an idyllic life, taking care of Zig ( she has their time together planned down to the last detail, including a Saturday night out at a fancy restaurant and long walks on Sundays ) . What she gets, though, is a father who is mired in his own past, and who confuses his daughter with his late wife, Ellen, revealing secrets about his marriage that the well-ordered Lily would have preferred not to hear. Her father's admissions about a past affair with a family friend upsets Lily's world and causes her to call into question everything she believes about love, commitment, men, and what bonds people together. This upheaval has an effect of Gina, a pretty bank teller whom Lily has fallen for and who, although she has been until this point in her life heterosexual, is tempted by the love Lily offers her. Amy Warren also gives an excellent performance here, feminine and soft, but strong enough to let Lily know when she's wrong ... and that she has set her standards for human beings far too high. It is the redemptive power of Gina's love that helps Lily begin to discard the shell of brittleness and omnipotence she possesses at the beginning of the show.
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All that said, I can say that The House of Lily should have been a pretty good play. It has all the elements of a gripping drama, one that has something important to say about the human condition and the way that relationships function in our lives, which is often different from how we expect them to be. But The House of Lily is bogged down with a poetic distance that prevents us from really caring. As I said earlier, Stryk has a gift for the lyrical and instead of crafting scenes of real emotional vulnerability and conflict, she gives her audience carefully measured speeches. The characters often speak to us, rather than each other ... and this technique if off-putting, consistently shutting us out of the world she's attempted to create, rather than letting us in. Stryk tells rather than shows. And this is The House of Lily's tragic flaw. This is a good production and showcases work by some of Chicago's finest actors, but The House of Lily is more of an exercise in academia than it is a work of art.