Where: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
When: through Feb. 24
By ANNE SPISELMAN
Nothing much happens in “Five Mile Lake,” Rachel Bonds’ mildly engrossing character study, which is enjoying a nicely staged Chicago premiere by Shattered Globe Theatre. Disappointed and frustrated, the five late-twentysomething characters in this 90-minute play try to connect while sharing small talk, reminiscences, their angst, and expectations.
Least unhappy of the lot is Jamie (Steve Peebles), manager of the desultory coffee shop in the “small, somewhat desolate town near Scranton, PA.” He’s made peace with not having left, is renovating the family’s lake house left to him by his grandfather, and finds pleasure in things like watching hockey games on television and caring for the cats in the alley. But he does carry a torch for his coworker, Mary (Daniela Colucci), and has since high school, though she doesn’t return his feelings.
On the back side of a breakup, Mary desperately wants to get out of town, go to the big city, and have a life. The only thing holding her back is her sense of responsibility for her brother, Danny (Drew Schad), who has returned from two tours in Afghanistan a psychologically broken man unable to hold down a job.
The relative quiet is upset by a surprise visit from Jamie’s older brother, Rufus (Joseph Wiens), the one who did manage to leave. He went to New York, where he teaches and is working on his PhD dissertation about the laments in Greek tragedy. He brings along his English girlfriend, Peta (Aila Peck), explaining rather vaguely that they needed a getaway.
The fissures in the brothers’ relationship begin to emerge during a night of outdoor drinking at the lake house. Rufus, selfish and self-centered, basically insults Jamie’s life choices including fixing up the lake house, while Jamie just wishes his older sibling would call their mother once in a while. Meanwhile, it becomes increasing clear that something is wrong between Rufus and Peta, though the catalyst (rather contrived) doesn’t come out until later.
When Peta reveals her homesickness and distress to Jamie in Rufus’ absence, he does his best to comfort her. Meanwhile, Rufus and Mary have a long talk about being kindred spirits, rekindling a high school crush and prompting him to urge her to come to New York. At the same time, he admits that he’s been suffering from writer’s block and unable to work on his dissertation.
Like the job that Danny lands briefly, none of this goes anywhere. Rufus and Peta leave, and despite awkward parting pleasantries, the rift between them probably is wider than before. Jamie and Mary return to their routine—including him teasing her—but as her anguish about Danny and her future come to a head, there are signs of rapprochement suggesting they might have a future as a couple.
Under Cody Estle’s direction, the acting is strong all-around, with Peebles’ kind-hearted Jamie inspiring the most sympathy. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design provides the perfect backdrop: The sparse coffee shop and gray façades of empty storefronts and the lake house on the slanting set are as depressing as can be, a visual metaphor for the lives of people just treading water. The time is winter, with dead leaves scattered all around, and the chill is palpable, a far cry from the idyllic image conjured by the title “Five Mile Lake.”