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Recommended, Beautifully acted
★★★ nostalgic and prescient

Ada Grey Reviews for You
intriguing and exciting show

Reviewed by Albert Williams, Chicago Reader

The title of Jake Jeppson's 90-minute one-act, a world premiere from Redtwist Theatre, refers to a sea turtle that is rescued by the play's protagonist, young stay-at-home mom Molly, after the creature has lost its way on its instinct-driven transatlantic odyssey to its ancestral spawning ground. The reptile is Jeppson's metaphor for modern America. Molly (the engaging, expressive Emily Tate), her husband (Drew Johnson), his brother (Michael Sherwin), and the brother's wife (Carolyn Kruse) are decent people having trouble connecting with each other and their own humanity, distracted by the relentless barrage of sound and images coming at them from their phones, Facebook, and sports and cable news TV shows. Set against the backdrop of the 2012 presidential campaign (Molly's brother-in-law is a hard-right Republican angry at having lost his job in a corporate downsizing), Turtle is a slight but sensitively written character study, remarkably timely in light of the recent election. Beautifully acted under Damon Kiely's direction, it features shimmeringly atmospheric lighting by Daniel Friedman.
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A sea turtle changes everything at Redtwist Theatre
Reviewed by Kerry Reid, Chicago Tribune, ctc-arts@chicagotribune.com

Like its eponymous sea creature, Jake Jeppson's "Turtle" spent some time treading water. Originally slated for Next Theatre before that Evanston institution went belly-up two years ago it has now found refuge in a world premiere at Redtwist Theatre under Damon Kiely's discerning direction.

Set in 2012 in the months preceding the Romney-Obama presidential duel, Jeppson's play manages to be both nostalgic and prescient. The four characters are all self-described Republicans, largely unhappy with the choices offered to them in the primary. But politics are only the outer layers or shell, if you prefer for the four characters in this cunning one-act.

For Molly (Emily Tate), the stay-at-home mom to two kids we meet at the beginning, politics is barely on her radar. Instead, she spends her days making grilled cheese sandwiches and repeatedly watching a children's nature documentary on sea turtles with her toddler daughter, Crystal, who has nightmares about crabs eating baby turtles. (We only hear Crystal, voiced by Miranda Garrabrant, on a baby monitor.)

Her husband, Sloan (Drew Johnson), has a vague job in the business realm, of which he will only say, "China is winning," while needling his wife about her lack of awareness. "What did gold do today?" he asks teasingly.

The real family firebrand is Sloan's brother, Pete (Michael Sherwin, in a blistering yet multilayered turn), whose newly laid-off status feeds the flames of his resentment toward well, everyone. Including his acerbic wife, Grace (Carolyn Kruse), who finds Molly's nattering about turtles at the restaurant (a seafood restaurant, no less), where Pete shares the bad news about his job, mind-numbingly dull and tone deaf. "Your life is very small," she snaps.

The dimensions of Molly's life change later that night when she and Sloan find a female sea turtle trapped in plastic netting on the beach. They take her home, with Pete and Grace's assistance, and watch her give birth to her brood who all die off instantly. (This is all suggested beautifully through nothing more than a tin tub filled with water, which shakes at intervals as Mama Turtle reacts to her circumstances.) The incident triggers some degree of self-reflection for all the characters.

So an ecological parable, right? Well, only in part. Jeppson's play certainly touches on global warming. Molly surmises that the unseasonably warm waters are why the turtle ended up on the New Jersey shore, so far out of her usual territory, to begin with. But I wouldn't call Jeppson's play "political," even with Pete's fiery rhetoric about "the food stamp president," as he calls Barack Obama. (His assumption that the GOP is down for the count and "our time is over" will probably feel a bit, um, poignant now.)

What Jeppson does well and what I think Kiely understands is that these people aren't unhappy because of their politics. They are unhappy people for whom politics provides a safety valve, an escape from dealing with their personal senses of failure and dissatisfaction with their relationships. In a sibling fight late in the play, Sloan insinuates that Pete didn't lose his job because of nefarious geopolitical forces he lost it because he's a temperamental jerk and nobody wants him around.

At the same time, Molly sees a different side of Pete on trips to the aquarium to visit the rescued turtle, whom she's named Tallulah. He finds himself fascinated by the clownfish and warns one aquatic specimen, which keeps banging its head on the side of the tank, "You're going to hurt yourself, you big dummy." If only he had the same insight about his own patterns of behavior.

Tate's Molly is the moral and emotional center of the story, and it takes awhile for her to find that groove. She's a little vocally overstated in the beginning, but by the end, she convinces us that she's a basically good person who has spent too much time in her own shell, buried in the sand away from what she doesn't want to face. Kruse's Grace (whose personality is the opposite of her name) also shows some soft emotional underbelly, while Johnson's Sloan embodies the basically apolitical guy who vaguely admires Chris Christie, but really just wants to drink a beer after work and avoid the drama.

So what to make of these characters in the new Trump order? "Desperate people are rabid," notes one character. But perhaps the cure for that condition can best be found in quiet moments of redemption of looking out for a creature even more vulnerable than ourselves, and giving them a chance to heal and live. Even if they have to do so in a world that looks nothing like the vast but familiar sea where "ancient pilgrims" rely on ancestral instinct to tell them where to go and what to do next.

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Ada Grey Reviews for You
Tuesday, November 29, 2016, http://adagrey.blogspot.com/
Review of Turtle at Redtwist Theatre by Ada Grey

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Turtle. It was by Jake Jeppson and it was directed Damon Kiely. It was about a woman named Molly (Emily Tate) who was a mother of two young children and her daughter (voiced by Miranda Garrabrant through the baby monitor) was obsessed with turtles and they loved watching turtle documentaries together. Then Molly became obsessed with turtles but she never knew how much turtles could shape her relationship with her husband Sloan (Drew Johnson) and his brother Pete (Michael Sherwin) and sister-in-law Grace (Carolyn Kruse). This play is about how a small thing can change your life, the struggles of being a parent, and feeling disconnected from the people you love. I thought this was a really intriguing and exciting show.

I really loved the opening monologue. What I especially liked about it was how light it was, so that the big things that happened later in the play were more surprising. The monologue was Molly trying to get both of her kids to calm down. You learn about how she is a stressed mom and all she wants to do is have a bit of peace and quiet, but still be a good parent. I think it is a great introduction for Molly's character; it shows you the classic suburban mom and how protective she is, but then as the play continues you get to see not just the parenting part of her life but also her relationship with her husband and his family. There was one moment that I found very funny where Molly accidentally burns the grilled cheese for her kids and then she acts like it is totally fine when she is clearly very pissed off, and says "Just let mommy scrape off the burnt parts real quick."

I think the turtle is in the play to show how much Molly cares about her children and how much she wants the best for her entire family, but still wants to be happy. The play takes something important away from the turtle to show how Molly is when something important is taken away from her. When the turtle loses its babies, it loses its purpose; a turtle's occupation is basically to make more turtles. That shows how Molly kind of realizes that once her children are gone she will have a completely new life like the turtle when it goes to the aquarium. The turtle shows us Molly's dedication to the people that she loves and has to love, but it still isn't a happy ending for anyone because even if you feel like you are doing the right thing, it doesn't mean that everything will turn out in the end.

In this play, politics are sometimes a distraction from what is going on right in front of you. Pete, who is Sloan's brother, his marriage is not going great, but instead of talking about his marriage and trying to fix things he decides to talk about politics instead. He has also just been fired from his job, but then he won't even talk to anyone about it. But Molly doesn't use politics as a distraction she uses it as connection by having knowledge of the election so she can talk more with her brother-in-law, who she might like as more than a brother-in-law. Even though he uses politics as a distraction he also finds a connection with her.

People who would like this show are people who like connections through politics, intriguing stories about motherhood, and symbolic turtles. I think people should see this show. I felt like it was an interesting show and I had never seen anything like it before.

Ada Grey Reviews for You
Ada is 12 years old and has been reviewing plays since she was 4. She dictates these reviews to her mom, who asks good questions and can type a little faster than Ada can.