If you don't deal with the past, some say, it will sneak up and deal with you. For Aggie, the past appears on a stormy March evening in the form of her younger sister Bella, who abruptly forces Aggie and her lover, Madeline, to sort through their lives in order to press on toward their future. Writer Robin Rice Lichtig's ambitious play, Embracing the Undertoad, wrestles with issues of trust, redemption, family, love, betrayal, and forgiveness, all within the confines of a small apartment bedroom in Wilmington, N.C. The award-winning script was presented as a one-act at the Bailiwick Rep in Chicago, where it won the Lesbian Theatre Initiative. With an occasional affecting metaphor or timely turn of phrase, the full-length production brings interesting relationships and issues to light. But the lack of any satisfying resolution for the characters gives the lengthy spans of dialogue the feeling of being diluted from what was most likely a sharper, more pungent original version.
When Aggie returns home from her waitressing job, her younger girlfriend Madeline immediately recognizes that something is wrong. She questions Aggie until she divulges that her boss's son has been sexually harassing her. As the women plot their revenge, their dialogue reveals the cracks in their five-month-old relationship. Madeline, a young writer, is hard at work on her book, a tome about spelunking and self-discovery. A heavy drinker, she writes all day while Aggie works. Aggie is desperate for her to finish her book so they can reap the monetary rewards and live the life of their dreams, while Madeline maintains that she will not be fully inspired until Aggie tells her the details of her life before they met. Aggie is tight-lipped about her past, and much of the action concerns Madeline's attempts to learn about Aggie's history.
When the telephone rings, Aggie's feeling of foreboding is confirmed when Madeline reports that Bella is on her way to visit. Aggie wants to flee, but Madeline, recognizing a possibility to finally unravel Aggie's past, insists that they stay. When Bella arrives, wind chimes sound, snow falls, and the curtains blow open. As sisters who have lived through tragedy, Bella and Aggie share a mystical, extrasensory bond. Throughout the course of the evening, Bella manages to expose the secrets of both Madeline's and Aggie's versions of truth, and she leaves the two to decide on the future of their relationship.
Lichtig certainly had strong elements with which to work. Madeline is an expert spelunker, which invites intriguing comparisons between venturing into caves and venturing into relationships, both of which bring us through darkness in pursuit of light. Aggie is also a fascinating character, a woman with low self-esteem who pushes aside her own life to live vicariously and feed off of Madeline's talent. The ethereal Bella operates as sage, muse, and prophet, a figure who arrives and departs surrounded by mystery. She leaves us with questions that are never fully answered, but perhaps for Lichtig's purposes, they are questions better left unresolved.
Much of the problem lies in the relationship between Aggie and Madeline. Although both Kate Cox and Deshja Driggs Hall give strong individual performances, there is a lack of chemistry between them that makes it difficult to support and believe in their fight for their relationship. Their dialogue often feels forced and clich