On Clover Road is a Chicago premiere play written by Steven Dietz, performed at American Blues Theater and directed by Halena Kays. On Clover Road demands the audience to consider how far they would go to save those they love, and those terrible moments when you discover someone is not who they said they were. Dietz’s play show centers a woman who believes she will be reunited with her daughter, but she has become a member of a dangerous cult. The following twist and turns will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The set (designed by Lizzie Bracken) visually conveys location to the audience through a number of details. The abandoned motel setting contains molded ceilings, water stains, rotted wood, exposed yellow colored light bulbs, and horrific stains that I don’t even want to think about. It’s a setting straight out of a horror movie, and it does exactly what set design should do: it tells us everything while giving away nothing.
As the house lights dimmed, the lighting around the stage (Alexander Ridgers) shined as if we, the spectators, were about to watch the horror unfold… and it did. As the play went on the lights began to shift into a more dreamlike and saturated design. Suddenly characters were lit with hard crisp lines reminiscent of a film noir. Blue and red lights were used to drench the characters, giving us the impression that not everything the audience is hearing or seeing is to be believed.
While the show certainly holds it’s suspense, with twist after gut wrenching twist, the characters felt a little out of focus. The audience never gets a chance to really know who these characters are and what they ultimately have to lose. I couldn’t help to think that Kate, while fiercely independent, lacked an specifying quality that would have made her more relatable. As a result, the audience never truly learns who she is. We also never learn what deep emotions Stein, a leading character who helps Kate on her quest, may hold. It is hard to root for characters that one doesn’t know.
While I sometimes felt a lag in character motivation and sympathy with its main character, there were many actors who radiated in their performances. Grace Smith and Caroline Phillips as “The Girl” interpreted their characters in a complex and often frightening way. Their monologues gave me chills, goosebumps even. The ending does struggle with being cut abruptly short with booming curtain music; I wish the audience could sit in the pain for more than five short seconds.
To me, it was clear that the team at American Blues Theatre are passionate about this project. This is shown in their abundance of town halls and post-show discussions, but also in their very detailed and researched backstage guide. Ultimately, On Clover Road has many ah-ha lines about motherhood, raising teenagers, the manipulation of men, and about what truth is. One line that really stuck with me was “Children are not made of rubber, but glass – they shatter”, this is often true. We as adults carry the scars and bruises of our adolescence; they shape who we become. But if you want to know the other prophetic lines in the show you will just have to see it. No thriller, especially not one that works like this, should be spoiled.
On Clover Road runs through March 16th at American Blues Theater.
Philip Earl Johnson (Stine)
Gwendolyn Whiteside (Kate Hunter)
Jon Hudson Odom (Harris McClain)
Grace Smith (The Girl)
Caroline Phillips (The Girl)
Steven Dietz (playwright)
Halena Kays (director)
Lizzie Bracken (scenic)
Alexander Ridgers (lighting)
Alison Siple (costumes)
Rick Sims* (sound)
Mary O’Dowd (props)
Gaby Labotka (fight director)
Shandee Vaughan (production manager / stage manager)
Michael Brosilow (photos)