Credit: Leslie Schwartz

To call Facility Theatre’s mesmerizing staging of New York up-and-comer Jen
Silverman’s demanding Phoebe in Winter an unlikely success is an
understatement. First off, the playwright behind the formulaic,
audience-friendly The Roommate, seen at Steppenwolf this summer,
would seem a dubious candidate to create this confounding, unsettling,
multivalent fable of global, familial, and psychological warfare, more
European theatrical experimentalism than American regional theater fare.
And second, the cripplingly underresourced Facility, holed up in an
amenity-free church school basement, wouldn’t appear well positioned to
tackle a script of this magnitude.

But then, Chicago’s storefront theater history is littered with unlikely
successes, although few have been as resounding as this. In Silverman’s
disjointed, indefinable world, soldier brothers return home to father at
war’s end only to be taken hostage by an unflappable woman who insists they
replace the family she lost in battle—giving the manse’s beleaguered maid a
unique opportunity to launch domestic guerrilla incursions and leading,
unaccountably, to the simultaneous creation and destruction of a new social
order. Everything’s up for grabs: Some people die and stay dead, while
others sit down to dinner with eternally bleeding head wounds. Director
Dado, no stranger to esoteric theatrical worlds, fashions a tantalizing
realm both measured and explosive, lush and dissolute, artificial and
authentic, and her invincible cast somehow give emotional and psychological
coherence to a planet spinning off several axes at once. In the process,
they all but destroy the theater. It’s a year’s worth of playgoing packed
into 100 minutes.   v