Douglas Post's neo-noir thriller Earth and Sky opens tonight at Heartland Theatre with a special Pay What You Can preview performance that begins at 7:30 pm. These previews tend to be quite popular, so you should probably plan to be there by 7 to get in line.
I watched one of Earth and Sky's dress rehearsals earlier this week, and I can tell you that director Don LaCasse and his cast and crew have put together a terrific little show. Heartland doesn't do mysteries all that often, which is why this show stands apart a bit. It's definitely mysterious, following the story of Sara McKeon, a librarian who also writes poetry, and what happens -- backwards and forwards in her life -- when her boyfriend disappears from her life. Sara's love story shifts into reverse so that we can see how she and David met and forged a connection, while the police procedural part of the plot goes forward, from the moment Sara finds out her lover is gone through her journey into danger and lies as she searches for the truth.
I tend to like plays and films that fool with form, and there are quite a few examples of this "reverse chronology" phenomenon. Harold Pinter's Betrayal is probably the most famous on stage, while the movie Memento may take those honors on film, but there's also Alan Ayckbourn's Time of My Life, with its three overlapping "time streams," including one moving in reverse, Merrily We Roll Along, which goes backwards in both the Kaufman and Hart original play and the Furth/Sondheim musical version, Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, and parts of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where the technique is employed particularly effectively.
Since you're solving a mystery forwards as well as putting together the fragments of a romance backwards, Earth and Sky will command your attention throughout its 100-minute playing time. Karen Hazen, who plays Sara McKeon at Heartland, creates a compelling, sympathetic heroine, and the supporting cast is pretty terrific, too, with a range of suspicious cops and robbers that is quite fascinating. I was also impressed with Kenneth Johnson's "under the L" scenic design, which moves seamlessly inside and outside seamy Chicago corners, dives and alleys, and the sound and light cues from Caisa Sandberg and Anita McDaniel that move us from past to present and back.
Performances of Earth and Sky continue Friday and Saturday -- but not Sunday -- this week, with Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances during the rest of September. Ticket prices range from $15 for general admission to $12 for seniors and $5 for students. You can see show times here and get reservation information here.