Victory Gardens Theater. By Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Joanie Schultz. With McKenzie Chinn, Amanda Drinkall, Matt Farabee, Steve Key, William J. Norris, Ernest Perry Jr., Mary Ann Thebus. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Rest, a sweet, humane portrait of the final few residents and skeleton staff of a shuttering retirement home, is a worthy entry in newly-minted MacArthur "Genius" Samuel D. Hunter’s growing body of work. Yet it feels far more ordinary in the telling than, say, The Whale, in which the Victory Gardens ensemble playwright dealt with similar themes in more unexpected ways.
Nurses Ginny (McKenzie Chinn) and Faye (Amanda Drinkall) are packing up the last knick-knacks in the lobby of the small-town Idaho rest home before it shuts down in a few days, while their last residents—played by Mary Ann Thebus, William J. Norris and Ernest Perry Jr.—pack their own belongings.
The somewhat inept manager (Steve Key) has just hired Ken (Matt Farabee), a troubled young man of born-again faith, to replace the cook who bolted early (and to serve as the newcomer who requires the other characters to provide exposition). As a massive blizzard hits town, cutting everyone off from the outside world, Etta (Thebus) announces that she thinks Gerald (Norris), her dementia-afflicted husband, has wandered off into the snow.
The combination of all of these circumstances smacks of writerly convenience, as do some of the actions taken by Etta. Still, the premise allows Hunter to write about issues of aging and dying with dignity with the same abundance of compassion he so often brings to sketching small, ordinary lives. The facility’s staff, too, have their own concerns and fears about the future, rendered with care and warm humor.
It’s a pleasure to see in Joanie Schultz’s fine production a crop of rising Chicago actors like Drinkall, Farabee and Chin working alongside venerable veterans Perry, Norris and Thebus—the latter of whom gives Rest its clear-eyed, unsentimental heart.