Four people stand in a row at the rear of the set. From left, we see a man in a red shirt and tan pants, wearing glasses and a cap. Next to him is a woman in a light-colored dress. A man in a light-colored dress shirt, tan pants, and black vest is next, and at the far right is a man in a 1920s-style bathing suit. On the table in front of them is a woman in a red bathing suit and flowered bathing cap, laying flat on her stomach with her arms outstretched to either side.
The ensemble of Failure: A Love Story at Oil Lamp Theater Credit: Gosia Photography

The cliché has it that life is what happens when one is making other plans, but that’s clearly preposterous. In the main, it’s death that happens when we’re making other plans. Even in hospice, my mother wouldn’t let us cancel her weekly subscription to People

It’s certainly the case with Chicago’s singularly vivacious Fail sisters, each of whom, we learn in the first moments of Philip Dawkins’s ingeniously morbid heartwarmer, dies of unnatural causes in 1928. Nelly is done in by a blow from a blunt object, Jenny June disappears, and Gerty gets the consumption (once an umbrella term for tuberculosis and other breathing ailments). Directed by Xavier Custodio for Glenview’s Oil Lamp Theater, Dawkins’s tale of girls interrupted (first produced locally in 2012 at Victory Gardens) retains its ebullient, tragic charms as Gerty, Nelly, and Jenny June go about their lives and dreams, most of them centered in their home on the Chicago River and the Fail family clock shop on its ground floor. 

Failure: A Love Story
Through 9/4: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Oil Lamp Theater, 1723 Glenview Rd., Glenview, 847-834-0738,, $45

Everything the Fail family does—swimming in Lake Michigan, cruising through the Loop in a brand-new motor car, finding bliss with the loves of their lives—is seen through the lens of their imminent death. Custodio has all three sisters played by a single actor (Kendal Romero), which feels more like a budget decision than an artistic choice. Romero captures sibling rivalries and revelries with spark and verve (helped by Elizabeth Monti’s simple, effective costume design). But the script isn’t served by embodying all the Fail sisters in one person; the joy and the inevitable sorrow that define the lives of the three is blurred and blunted. Still, the upbeat, offbeat production succeeds in prodding the audience toward following their passions to the fullest even though in the end—as all those ticking clocks relentlessly remind—we’re all on borrowed time.