The central image of A Twist of Water, Caitlin Parrish’s intelligent tearjerker, is two people shivering in the Chicago winter, shoving their hands into each other’s pockets and huddling against the cold. It’s about the ways we find to keep each other warm, literally and figuratively, when the chill goes so deep you feel like your blood might freeze.
Route 66 Theatre Company’s production is both straight from and very much of the Windy City. It’s almost a character itself, represented by a miniature model of the skyline on top of the set, sparkling silver and white (coated in either snow or fairy dust—take your pick).
A year down the road, history teacher Noah (Stef Tovar) is still reeling from his husband’s sudden death. Their adopted teenage daughter, Jira (Falashay Pearson), channels her grief into rage at her surviving father and plans a quest to discover her birth mother. Noah seeks solace in the arms of a charismatic younger man (Alex Hugh Brown) who also happens to be Jira’s English teacher. It’s a Lifetime Originals–ready premise, but Parrish rarely lets things congeal into sentimentality. The heartrending scenes feel too real to be schlocky, particularly the moment when Jira finally comes face to face with her bio-mom (played powerfully by Lili-Anne Brown). Parrish's dialogue is a weird mix of poetic rhapsodizing and sitcommy banter, but the actors (who've all been with the show since its Chicago premiere) sell it with their rawly emotive performances.
There’s a lot squeezed in here: Twist is simultaneously a meditation on alternative families, a grief drama, a rom-com and an urban history lecture; but like the city of Chicago, built and rebuilt in spite of fire and drought, it’s an object lesson in impossible engineering.—Jenna Scherer