There's no denying Clockwise Theatre's ambition in producing the world premiere of Rob Winn Anderson's drama "A Fine Line." Yet this Waukegan-based company, dedicated to presenting new or recent works by authors with Midwestern ties, has reached beyond its capabilities with a problematic script.
"A Fine Line" focuses on D. Garfinkel (Doug McDade), an Intersex person born with male and female genitalia who has built a career as an installation artist in part from gender notoriety. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, Garfinkel struggles with past painful memories while also trying to make amends with an estranged foster son named Brad (Matt Wilson).
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"A Fine Line"★ ½
Location: Clockwise Theatre, 221 N. Genesee St., Waukegan, (800) 838-3006 or clockwisetheatre.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday; through May 4
Running time: One hour, 40 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Metered street parking and area garage
Rating: For adults; contains mature themes and language
Approaching death, Garfinkel gets lots of tough-love ribbing not only from a hunky personal nurse called Mr. Strong (Kevin M. Costello), but from the spirits of 19th-century historical figures of the British art nouveau illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (Adrian Garcia) and French Intersex person Alexina Barbin (Anatole Odolant), who materialize to converse with Garfinkel and bicker with each other.
With so much happening in his script, playwright Anderson leaves out a lot of vital context in "A Fine Line." Audiences are constantly left guessing over things like the stature of Garfinkel in the art world, and the artist's motivations for favoring outward appearances of one gender over the other (which makes the character more of an artsy symbol than a genuine person).
Anderson also drops the ball in assuming that audiences know all about the lives of Beardsley and Barbin. Some more detailed historical context about who these people were and why they're haunting Garfinkel wouldn't be amiss.
Director Andrea J. Dymond's staging disappoints with pregnant pauses and creaky transitions that feel awkward rather than emotionally meaningful. The artsy and fanciful aspects of the script also come off as undercut in this production.
Dymond's design team could have done more as well. The lighting, for example, does little to differentiate between the flashback scenes and spectral appearances and the costumes are ill-fitting.
The cast does what it can with the muddled script, so one gets the sense that there isn't much joy or commitment to some of the performances as a consequence. You also feel for poor McDade, who is scripted to appear throughout the play in various states of partial undress.
So with "A Fine Line," Clockwise Theatre shows once again that it's a company that is more than willing to be daring and explore difficult topics. Unfortunately, this time they just can't pull it off.