Two young white women sit at a dimly lit kitchen table. They are holding beer bottles.
Laura Berner Taylor (left) and Liz Sharpe in A Mile in the Dark Credit: Michael Brosilow

Death is an often unwelcome teacher. It descends into our lives suddenly, without warning, or takes its sweet time. No matter when it finds us, Grief is right behind Death, bringing myriad reactions that we do not always see coming. Such is life for Jess in Emily Schwend’s A Mile in the Dark, when Jess and her father Roger must deal with the sudden death of Carol, Jess’s beloved stepmother. 

A Mile in the Dark
Through 12/11: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 11/28 8 PM and Wed 12/7 8 PM, no performances Sat 11/19 and Thu 11/24; Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge, 773-334-7728, or, $35 ($25 seniors; limited number of pay what you can tickets at each performance)

Schwend’s play, making its world premiere with Interrobang and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, is 90 minutes of sideways glances, awkward silences, and stumbling words. While that series of events can be the harbinger of death for most live theater, those moments of discomfort are Schwend’s bread and butter as a storyteller. Death is messy, so it is fitting that the fallout is just as uncomfortable. This keen playwright has a tight grip on naturalism that few dare to approach. 

Director Georgette Verdin’s ensemble cast meticulously assembles this slice-of-life drama into moments so many would wish away. Liz Sharpe as distanced childhood friend Kayla rounds out the bristling moments between Roger (a varied Keith Kupferer) and perfectly pensive Laura Berner Taylor as Jess. As Jess tries to piece together the final moments of her stepmother’s life, we observe with bated breath the most uncomfortable realization: that we never really know someone.