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Steep Theatre Sizzles With “A Small Fire”

 Steep Theater’s smoldering current production is the Chicago premiere of A Small Fire by David BockDirector Joanie Schultz, Artistic Associate, undertakes this her fifth play at Steep straight after directing the Goodman Theater’s production of Venus in Fur by David Ives.  Schultz and Steep reunite since their last hit at Steep in 2012 with Bock’s Jeff nominated play The Receptionist.  A Small Fire is about Emily Bridges (Melissa Riemer), a strong woman who, for inexplicable medical reasons, devastatingly loses sensory perceptions one by one and the challenges and grief that come of it.

Personal grief, existential contemplation, and persistent thoughts about the soul inspired Schultz’s commitment to this play.  “When I say the soul, I mean the core of your being, your emotional self, your loving and authentic self that lies buried under the things you accomplish on a daily basis,” she says.

The play’s elements of touch and emotion radiate from Bock’s experience as a gay man, who says he knows what it is like to be an outsider thus making him “critically think about gender, social and cultural roles.”   “I’ve seen it as part of my work to ‘shift the camera,’ or ‘shift the focus.’ I try to move the camera a little, and put something in the center that’s not normally in the center,” he told the PQ Monthly in an recent interview.   Indeed, Bock takes a chisel and hammer to the boulder of conventional gender, family, and societal perceptions in A Small Fire.

In the play, Emily Bridges, the owner and manager of a construction firm, is deprived of her sense of smell, taste, sight and finally hearing while weakened and shut out from the world by her impairments.  Resenting her husband John Bridges (Robert Koon) for his passivity,  Emily outwardly admits to the many years of regret married to him.   Her daughter, Jenny (Julie Siple) bitter by her mother’s undignified treatment of her dad and the neglect they endured to the construction business, decides to put more distance between them by moving out of the state shortly after her wedding.  Alone in the realms of thought and touch, Emily begins a transformation.  A once unconquerable woman, Emily gives in to her soul, emotions, and fully into her husband’s love.

I took a friend who had never been to a live theater performance to see A Small Fire.  He said, “Nothing dropped from the ceiling, but I cannot stop thinking about the play.”  Steep is fulfilling its mission.

A Small Fire playing through August 16; runs for 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Steep Theater, 1115 W.  Berwyn; tickets $20 – $22  www.steeptheatre.com


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