Failure: A Love Story

Twenty eight years after engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River and sent Lake Michigan's waters and the city's sewage toward the Mississippi and St. Louis, Mortimer Mortimer (Jeremy Make), a successful Windy City commodities dealer, makes the acquaintance of the three Fail sisters, eldest Gertrude (Trina Magness), middle Jenny June (Meridith C. Grundei), and youngest Nelly (Michelle Hurtubise), and, in reverse order, falls in love with and loses each under calamitous circumstances, much as the girls lost their parents.

Jeremy Make as Mortimer Mortimer and Meridith C. Grundei as Jenny June Fail
Jeremy Make as Mortimer Mortimer
and Meridith C. Grundei as Jenny June Fail
Photo: Michael Ensminger
It's 1928, one year before the stock market crash, and folks are downright optimistic about progress and bully over the taming of nature. Perhaps it was Mother Nature, in the guise of the lake or the river, that took unkindly to the locals' attempts to tame her, or perhaps it was just a string of bad luck for the Fail family, but in any case, the story is told with such poignancy by the playwright (Philip Dawkins), interpreted with such ingenuity by the director (Amanda Berg Wilson), and brought to life with such refinement by the cast, that we are enthralled for the entire 105-minute one-act.

As Oscar Wilde noted in The Importance of Being Earnest, "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing," and certainly the tragedies in this piece qualify it as a matter of grave importance. As as for style, Berg Wilson pulls out all the stops in creating a refined atmosphere—exquisite costumes by Annabel Reader, sublime music and sound design by Nina Rolle, and flowing choreographic effects throughout by Berg Wilson and Joan Bruemmer—all serving the company's unique acting style, impressively maintained throughout, that includes elements of steampunk, melodrama, hyperrealism, and magical realism.

A lively chorus of people, animals, clocks, and more—Bruemmer, Ed Cord, Crystal Verdon Eisele, Ryan Wuestewald, and Rolle—set up the story in an extended prologue, and punctuate the proceedings as the characters take root. Commentary by the fourth Fail sibling, adopted brother John (Jason Maxwell), a veterinarian, offers humorous and incisive counterpoint to "polite and proper discourse." As John notes near the conclusion, which serves as a fitting coda for both the story and the production, "Just because something ends, that don't mean it wasn't a great success."

The Catamounts' regional premiere of Philip Dawkins's Failure: A Love Story closed on October 27th.

Bob Bows


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