Smooth flying

'Duck' a hit in new home of Touchstone

By Sid Smith
Chicago Tribune Arts critic

With "The Wild Duck," a new era begins: Touchstone Theatre, which first bowed seven years ago in north suburban Lake Forest, takes up year-round residence at 2851 N. Halsted St., home for many recent years to the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre.

Outside, a diamond-shaped pink neon sign heralds the new residents. Inside, director Ina Marlowe, fond of the classics, offers this unusual, meaty one by Henrik Ibsen to launch Touchstone's tenancy.

The grand subject is truth, the ultimate pursuit of all the arts, but in "The Wild Duck" truth takes a devious, destructive turn. A young man's insistence that his best friend know the dark secrets of his Wife's past have tragic results; idealistic truthtellers can be troublesome busybodies with deadly results.

The late 19th Century family at the center are victims of old wounds. Grandfather Ekdal (Larry Hart) was erroneously blamed for an earlier transgression and returned home from prison a broken man, obsessed with a menagerie of pet animals that remind him of his younger days in the forest; a wild duck is his special joy. His son, Hjalmar, is a photographic artist who fancies himself an inventor, while his wife, the true breadwinner, hides a primal secret: She was at one time mistress to a successful businessman who, to get rid of her, set Hjalmar up in business and stage-managed the couple's marriage and early life — their daughter, Hedvig, isn't really Hjalmar's but the businessman's. It's that same. businessman's son, Gregers (played with earnest devotion by Nathan Rankin), who unearths all this and determines to make everyone face the facts.

Director Marlowe, relying on a speedy pace and some overlapping dialogue, delivers a sturdy, trusty, emotionally explosive revival. At times rough around the edges, "The Wild Duck" is convincingly played and smartly layered with most, if not all, of lbsen's complexities. As the hapless Hjalmar, Kendall Marlowe is a cocksure dandy who breaks with the snap of a prized violin string, while Melinda Moonahan is reliably woebegone and long-suffering as his wife, and Amy E. Warren plays their daughter Hedwig with stark, unexpected fire and invention.

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