Always Together, French Theatre of Chicago, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Before the iron curtain fell in 1989, life in Romania was dark both figuratively, under the harsh regime of dictator Ceausescu, and literally: there were no streetlights at night. Director Anne-Bernadette Weiner has brought that darkness to the stage in her adaptation of Anca Visdei’s play about two Romanian sisters, living apart for 18 years when one seeks asylum in Switzerland. Audience members are led into the theater five at a time and must hold on to one another’s shoulders to find their seats. The action circles around and behind the audience, with the sisters clacking on typewriters, telling each other about their very different lives. After their professor father is killed, Alexandra (the husky-voiced Elaine Kanonik) flees to become, like him, a writer. Iona (the flute-voiced Kathryn Carlson) develops into a principal actress in the national theater; in order to keep her position, she becomes the mistress of a communist official (a flat Wayne Eji).
Though Kanonik and Carlson are masters at conveying uncertainty and desperation through their voices alone, the play seems remote from the severe hand of dictatorship without the visuals that would make it come alive. Visdei wrote Always Together to be seen, and unfortunately Peter Wenger’s sound design isn’t rich enough to fill in the gaps. But Weiner’s clean direction keeps us from becoming disoriented, and producing a play in the dark is intriguing: this brave new company is one to watch.