A group of people gathers around a table as if at a seance. The walls behind them look like crisscrossed iron bars. A young woman is standing behind the bars.
The Wonder at Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Credit: Lena Aubrey

Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s first full-length production in Chicago since 2019, a world premiere penned by Maggie Lou Rader, is haunting, literally. Based on the first reported instance of spiritual possession in the midwest, in Watseka, Illinois in the late 19th century, the story merges ghostly occurrences with the all-too-real trauma of a family consumed by loss. With some trimming and more consistency in tone, there’s real potential here to leave audience members provoked and emotionally affected.

The Wonder
Through 5/13: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, eclectic-theatre.com, $30 advance, $35 at door, $20 livestream (selected performances)

Years after the loss of their daughter and a winding journey into spiritualism, the Roff family encounters Lurancy Vennum (Isabella Maria Valdes), a young woman suffering from unexplained episodes and purported possession by the dead, notably their daughter Mary (Tina-Kim Nguyen). The story at the front of the stage veers literal and corporeal, with the young women’s episodes disturbing, violent, and hard to watch. Behind an artistic and linear backdrop, in what could be interpreted as “the other side” or the subconscious, the emotions are communicated through cast members’ lyrical movement. This realm could be leveraged further, offering the resonance of more graphic plot points in a way that’s less jarring. 

Creating a pervasive, unsettled tone is difficult for live theater, and Valdes and Nguyen are strong mirrors of one another that portray their heavenly linkage with nuance and engaging otherworldliness (all under Gaby Labotka’s capable direction). We’re not quite sure if the possession is real, and that uncertainty leads to further reflection on faith and what it means to process grief.