Pomona, by Alistair McDowall, tightly and cleverly directed by Robin Witt, is currently in production at Steep Theater, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago. The original run being completely sold out,12 more shows were just added and the play will be performed through September 14, 2019.
When Ollie’s sister turns up missing, she is led to a strange property owner who warns her not to become involved- but becomes involved. In fact, that is the primary human interaction in Pomona: a warning that the listener is disaffected, by a person very much affected.
Pomona itself is a scarred and scary concrete island in the middle of a scarcely aware city, Manchester, England. A tale that purports to warn us of the evils of human’s trafficking, McDowall’s weirdly winning nonlinear story asks the question- is it even possible to be good anymore? One aloof enigmatic character answers thus, “Everything bad is real.” However, the viewer takes away the answer, “Even the seemingly worst among us can move toward the light”.
Pomona features Ashlyn Lozano, Phoebe Moore, Jamila Tyler, and Steep Company Members Nate Faust, Peter Moore, Brandon Rivera, and Amber Sallis in a play filled with memorable performances. Each and every actor ultimately shows her hand and heart and gives us a deal to think about after the last of the many scenes concludes. Having said that, even at 100 well-paced minutes, the action- or what passes for it in the form of highly literate dialogue- drags in places.
This unusual, deep/dark mystery cum science fiction piece is composed of fractured timelines, tricky provenance issues, tongue-in-cheek indelible images and unanswered questions. Major themes include deliberate failure to face reality, and the personal costs of this blind ignorance as well as the toll taken on the psyche by facing up to facts. Pomona is also a disquisition on the underbelly of urban crime in the context of violence, sexual fraud, and lack of privilege, power and/or authority.
We are taken inside a world awash in subterfuge, where games are too real, and evil can emerge from behind an octopus mask. In such scenes as one where a character explains the meaning of an iconic movie’s ending while transporting a frantic sibling, we are made to speculate why it’s best not to open sealed boxes.
An effectively frightening tale of sex roles in the city, it’s not lacking in sadism and on the surface can seem to offer little hope. Yet, adjacent to the violence is oddball humor, and hand-in-hand with people’s worst nightmarish fears for their safety is a strong twinned aspect of valiant human struggle to do what’s right. In fact, Pomona is very much a fantastic, eerie morality saga of triumph of the human heart over cruelty and of the creation of life comrades through shared worst jobs, fear and gamesmanship.
Pomona, its genuinely developed comic-book personalities in the context of its weird structure, superbly canted toward the camp, essentially alters one’s perceptions. Great writing, a strong director at the helm, and actors who remain firmly inside the mind-altering lives of their characters bring it all home.
Kudos to the PRODUCTION TEAM including set designer Joe Schermoly; lighting designer Brandon Wardell; sound designer Thomas Dixon; costume designer Aly Amidei; props designer Jenny Pinson; fight choreographer Christina Gorman and dialect coach Adam Goldstein.
All photos by Lee Miller unless otherwise noted.
For information and tickets, go to www.steeptheater.org