Family tends to evoke feelings of belonging while simultaneously being able to summon uncertainty and disgust. Every family has stories about recluses and broken relationships. Mark Boergers, in his new play, focuses on family relationships and the promises that ebb and flow through the decades. The Things We Keep explores the expectations of returning home, ghosts (emotional and physical), and an artist’s decay into solitude. The play is directed by The Arc Theatre’s Director of New Works, Natalie Sallee, and marks the company’s debut production in their new Evanston home.
Of special note is Alec Long’s scenic design, which transformed the space into a hoarder’s attic, filled to the brim with boxes of knick-knacks, awards, and half-completed artistic endeavors. The boxes framed the walls and windows, evoking claustrophobia.
While the production values of the piece were admirable, the script itself could use more development. What did work was the relationship between the two brothers (Rob and Tom) and their aunt (Marie, the artist), who willingly paid for their college tuition and mysteriously broke ties with her niece (Evelyn). The dialogue between the brothers themselves was subtle and built suspense about familial history. Although the actors tried, Boergers’ dialogue intermittently slipped into an overly-poetic prose that caused disconnect between the subtext and action. Heavy exposition took the place of action in several scenes while, in the case of Marie, she was allowed too many pedantic artistic musings.
Natalie Sallee made great use of the space and scenic design and directed a competent ensemble of actors, who rose to the challenge of this script. It wasn’t until late in the play that I noticed the lightbox in the corner of the stage displaying the year the action was taking place (it switched between three years). This could have either been more prominently placed, ensuring all sightlines adequate view. Additionally, in what was a beautifully realistic set, it was distracting to see the cast mime going up and down the attic staircase.
This was a difficult production and The Arc Theatre rose to the challenge. I’m looking forward to their next production in their new home.