DENIZEN Moves and Thrills with Spiky “Sender”
DENIZEN Theatre scores again with a terrifically written, wild and emotional close to their first season, Ike Holter’s “Sender.” We all have dreams and perceptions of how the world works developed in our youth that we have a hard time letting go of, sometimes imperiling our future. What if those ideas were embodied by a wild child who has disappeared and been living off the grid and returns home to Chicago on the one-year anniversary of his flight? Meet Lynx (energetically played by the charismatic Ben Williamson, a co-Artistic Director of DENIZEN) who has come back to challenge everyone’s resolve to move forward and “grow the f**k up.”
He is first confronted by his girlfriend Tess (feral and adorable Veronica Cooper) whose home he has turned up at. When he minimizes it, calling it her apartment, she responds “It’s my house! I have neighbors and rent and recycling. This is my house.” Her coruscating anger immediately riveted me- “Where have you been? Paris? Amsterdam? Briga-f**king-Doon?!?!” Playwright Ike Holter has a way with cursing and it is shown to good effect in this opening scene by Tess. After a thorough tongue lashing, she takes him back in on this Independence Day weekend. I loved Mr. Holter’s confrontations and I’ve been eager for him to break through to widespread mainstream success since seeing his history of Stonewall play “Hit the Wall” at Barrow Street six years ago. It was great to see his work again.
Lynx doesn’t fare as well with their good friend, the prophetically named Cassandra (the heartbreaking and hilarious Samantha Jane Williams) who quickly offers Lynx $10,000. to disappear again. She recognizes the threat he poses to her marriage with Jordan (Maurice Chinnery, wide eyed with wonder and delight) and their incipient family. Jordan who does telemarketing for Groupon welcomes the iconoclastic Lynx back with open arms. It is hard to minimize the trusting vulnerability of this act as the three friends had believed Lynx dead and have had a memorial for him.
The play is a wild, drunken, lurching stumble towards maturity and adulthood. Cassandra thinks she has it figured out, Tess has taken tentative steps with a stint in rehab and Jordan has serious questions about who he is and his place in the world. All three are thrown into disarray by Lynx’s arrival and his promise of a life lived less ordinary. According to urban dictionary, a sender is “someone who doesn’t take anyone’s s**t and just does as he pleases no matter the circumstances or the outcome.” You can see why Tess, a poetry major and art minor, who has been walking dogs and Jordan the telemarketer would be open to this Peter Pan’s call.
Director Martine Kei Green-Rogers appropriately brings a sharp, elbows out, bruising style to this Chicago tale greatly aided by Intimacy & Fight Choreographer Benjamin Boucvalt. She can also sculpt confrontations without the slaps and kisses, as she did in this summer’s terrific “The Brothers Size” at Ancram Opera House. She and her crackerjack cast use Holter’s dialogue as a weapon of its own. You would almost swear that blood had been drawn, so strong was the audience’s reaction to a wounding line coming from the most unexpected character here. It is emblematic of the great balancing act she pulls off here, presenting distinctly drawn characters who we meet from the first beat of the play at their extremist.
DENIZEN Theatre is celebrating its first anniversary this week and it’s pretty incredible to consider what they have achieved in a year. Every performance has had a different configuration in this black box theater as I’ve never seen transformed so completely like this before. From the naturalistic realism of “The Arsonists” and “Companion Piece” to the arena staging of “Every Brilliant Thing” to the open, representational “Meek” and last night’s “Sender.” The set designer was Crystal Velazquez who offered a pair of extended, thrilling roof-top scenes. Every time I enter this theatre, I have no idea what I’m going to encounter. Five times I’ve seen plays I’ve never seen before but I also don’t know where I’m going to sit or direct my attention. How great is that? Like an unopened surprise gift with every visit. All that, pay what you can Wednesdays and over 1,000 students offered $5. tickets this year has me singing “Happy Birthday” the whole hour and a half drive home.