Three young actors make a coming-of-age story come alive with modern relevance in Raven Theatre’s world premiere of Sarah Sander’s play, Sycamore.
Devon de Mayo directs Selina Fillinger, Julian Larach and Johnathan Nieves in a next-door neighbor triangle story set in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Celia (Fillinger) is the protective older sister of Henry (Larach) who has fallen in love with John (Nieves), the new boy next door. Celia and John are also attracted to each other. Celia and Henry’s parents Louise (Robyn Coffin) and David (Tom Hickey) are caring and concerned but of course the teenagers think they’re clueless. John’s mother Jocelyn (Jaslene Gonzales) is getting over a divorce and drinks too much wine. She’s sympathetic to the boys and lets them hang out, watch Fellini films and smoke weed.
It’s a small claustrophobic story, confined to the front porches of the two family homes and the school and extracurricular activities of the three teens. Louise and David’s problems surface in the background (his loss of a teaching job and too many shifts at the diner where he works as a line cook). And we learn a little about their pasts—how they met and their early years of marriage. But it’s the kids’ story.
If anything, the 75-minute play could be stretched out a little. Some of the storylines need more depth. For instance, the attraction between Celia and John isn’t quite believable. And the animosity between the two siblings (brought about by an incident that resulted in Henry crashing the family car and ending up on medication for depression) ends rather abruptly. It turns out that Henry likes wearing Celia’s clothes and is more comfortable in them. So when she gives him a special gift, their relationship suddenly warms.
The three young characters are understandably troubled about their futures, for different reasons. Larach is shy, tentative and believable as Henry. Fillinger, Nieves and the parents are equally capable and credible characters. Even on opening night, the small cast in the intimate West Theatre at Raven had the warmth of an ensemble.
What does the title of the play signify? I’d like to think that the title Sycamore refers to that town of 10,000 souls in DeKalb County, where I used to take my sons for the annual pumpkin festival. There are also towns named Sycamore in Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri but they are all much smaller. So yes, it’s Sycamore, Illinois. Like Pocatello, the Samuel Hunter play produced by Griffin Theatre in 2015, Sycamore is set in an unexceptional town, a segment of the real America.
Sycamore continues through April 29 at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., with performances Thursday-Sunday. Tickets are $43-46.