Like several theater artists with connections to bonnie Scotland, David Greig seems to have the golden ticket of the moment. This thrilling scribe — perchance you saw his grand piece "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart" last fall at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater — also has written the book to the much-anticipated new musical version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which begins previews in London in a couple of weeks.
But he's tricky. He tends to write in a singular fusion of the narrative and the dramatic; his characters love to tell their own stories, even as they find themselves in the heart of them. You have to tease out the throughline. And his works have to be directed with zest and passion.
Neither of those latter two qualities are sufficiently on display in Writers' Theatre's disappointingly flat, safe and prosaic production of "Yellow Moon," what should be an edgy, frenetic, 80-minute piece about a couple of alienated Scottish teenagers who take off together to make trouble, somewhat akin to a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.
The boy, Stag Lee McAlinden (portrayed by Josh Salt), is the boisterous product of a broken family and one of those dangerous, cute teenage boys dreaded by the parents of quiet teenage girls the world over. The girl, Leila (Ashleigh LaThrop), is a good girl from a migrant family who knows how to keep the rules, until she lets loose. The immature pair has no clue what they are doing, of course, or even how to relate to each other. At one point, Stag declares his intention to make a career as a pimp, and Leila still sticks around. But they find in each other a refuge from the cruelties of the world. And as they embark on a trip across the heather in search of both a father and self-discovery, they're filled with desire.
Frankly, there was more sexual tension on Thursday night at one of the stoplights on Green Bay Road than in the little room behind Books on Vernon in Glencoe, a tiny venue that should have been ideal for a piece that demands an intimate setting. As the adults in the piece and the main storytellers, accomplished actors John Lister and Karen Janes Woditsch have their moments and surely know how to unspool Grieg's dramatic poetry. But although LaThrop and Salt are attractive young actors, they seem to have no connection whatsoever to each other, no sense of young lovers against the world, no feeling for the dangerous sexual politics of follower and leader. They're supposed to be hot-blooded young people striking out alone for the first time, yet there is barely a flicker of illicit mutual passion.
And thus with the entire production shorn of any sensual or dangerous teenage undertow, "Yellow Moon," a fine piece of writing, does not rise and fall as it should. Director Stuart Carden, who might have paid more attention to these problems, should call these actors back in the room and make it known that unless they connect to each other, we surely cannot connect to them, however rich the language coming from their mouths.
When: Through Aug. 4
Where: Writers' Theatre at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Tickets: $35-$60 at 847-242-6000 or writerstheatre.org