‘Wake Up, Mrs. Moore’ premieres on Elgin stage

Cary, Geneva, St. Charles stars propel intriguing new play

"Wake Up, Mrs. Moore" by iambe theatre ensemble in April 24 (Dawson, from left, Koester, Mayhall)

A world premiere is in store as iambe theatre ensemble presents “Wake Up, Mrs. Moore,” a fresh new contemporary drama by Northwestern University Professor Julie Marie Myatt that takes us on quite a ride from the 1970s through 2010. Under Director Gail Cannata, the cast of six brings the bittersweet reality of Virginia Moore to life in a production running through April 28.

The troupe was founded in 2021 to provide high-quality theater that focuses on the under-represented, particularly women of all ages – a demographic not seen enough onstage. Co-founders Shannon Mayhall of Cary and Doreen Dawson of Geneva are producers of the play, and chose “Wake Up, Mrs. Moore” because of its many themes.

Among them Dawson noted is: “How all the plans we make ultimately have little to do with what actually changes us, and makes us who we are.”

Mayhall added that what drew her to the play was “the idea of someone whose dreams are realized in a comatose state, and then, when brought back to reality, makes the decision to live the way she wants to live.”

The story begins in 1970, with feminist Virginia Moore marching for equal rights for women and against the Vietnam war. A drunk in the crowd throws a full beer can that knocks Virginia unconscious; she lapses into a coma that lasts for 40 years. During those comatose years, we see the places she travels (she loves France) and the experiences she has in her mind, but time marches on for the troubled lives of her husband, who won’t give up on her, and for her sister, Alma. Miraculously, 40 years later, Virginia awakes. She’s missed so much: the end of the Vietnam war, Roe v. Wade, computers, high-definition TV and 9/11. Think of it!

The two-act play under Cannata’s experienced direction is a creative composition of lives changed without warning. Cannata keeps her characters credible, and the scenes flowing and fresh with well-chosen action that leads to emotions.

Of course, all strong productions are collaborative. Stage manager Christopher Yee keeps those props and set pieces moving. Costumes by Kit Medic are specific to the eras mentioned, such as the 1970 jeans, hippie tops and colored sunglasses.

The lighting and sound design by Sean Hargadon, especially the pre-show music and protest march sounds, complement the set provided by the cast and staff. (Love the record album crate!)

The ensemble of six is composed of veteran performers and four recorded voice-overs to enhance the passage of time (John Mayhall, Ken Kaden, Christopher Kubiak and Christopher Yee).

Although Shannon Bachelder of Chicago doesn’t make her appearance as Tracy Jennings until late in Act 1, she is impressive as Alma’s daughter. She portrays a 43-year-old fertility doctor living in Los Angeles, estranged from her mother. She hasn’t talked to the family for 12 years, and a reunion orchestrated by Virginia is painful to watch. Bachelder plays Tracy as savvy, independent and successful. She hasn’t become her mother, Alma, in any way.

"Wake Up, Mrs. Moore" by iambe theatre ensemble in April 24 (Susan Anderson from left, Doreen Dawson)

Susan Anderson of Elgin portrays Susan Jones, the healthcare professional who tends to Virginia. Her Susan is down to earth, wise, vibrant and a believer in hope and change. She has several comedic lines and great speeches, but her best is the “rise up and participate” speech that garners audience applause. Anderson is a dazzler.

Brandon Frederick of Arlington Heights is George, Virginia and Alma’s brother, who was lost in Vietnam. Frederick is a polished and charming actor, the all-knowing voice from beyond who unites with Virginia in her comatose state. He is also in the twilight world, but ultimately sends her home. He envies Virginia because: “endless time goes on and on and on and is dull and boring.” Frederick’s character is the catalyst for change; as an actor, he is quite memorable.

Brian Koester of St. Charles is Virginia’s husband, Glenn. He is a remarkable actor who makes the transition from newly married 19-year-old to aging/bad-kneed/bankrupt/retired lawyer. It’s a performance that will make you feel for the man who wouldn’t give up on his wife for 40 years, and expected her to return to him as she was. Koester is an intense, distinguished and sincere actor in his portrayal of the kind, loving, self-sacrificing Glenn.

And then there are Shannon Mayhall and Doreen Dawson. Both are engaging in their roles: Mayhall as Alma, and Dawson as Virginia. Both are poignant in their character portrayals, and their performances are engrossing. Mayhall’s Alma is a vulnerable character accustomed to communicating with her sister in a comatose state. Alma’s life has fallen apart with the loss of both children, a philandering husband and self-esteem issues. She no longer knows how to communicate with Virginia when she’s not “stuck like a fossil with nowhere to go anymore.” Mayhall is an expressive and powerful actress.

"Wake Up, Mrs. Moore" by iambe theatre ensemble in April 24 (Mayhall from left-Dawson-Bachelder)

Dawson’s recovery as Virginia is initially traumatic and confusing, but of the two characters, hers is consequently the stronger. Virginia has plans. Her life is going to go forward. Dawson’s performance is haunting; she credibly exposes Virginia from the very first experience, and does it brilliantly.

Both Mayhall and Dawson are versatile actors with powerful presence. From dialogue delivery to physicality, both are exemplary.

So many themes are introduced in “Wake Up, Mrs. Moore” with humor and sincerity – from the political to the personal hopes and challenges of life’s momentum. The play’s ending arrives satisfactorily, with the show sure to result in many thought-provoking car-versations on the ride home. And iambe theatre is to be congratulated on this debut of “Wake Up, Mrs. Moore.”

(Play contains some adult language, and is appropriate for ages 13 and older.)

• Regina Belt-Daniels is celebrating her 10th year of writing reviews for the Shaw Local News Network. She has directed more than 40 productions for TownSquare Players, WMTC, RCLPC, The Black Box Theatre, Elgin Theatre Company, Independent Players and Raue Center For The Arts. She most recently directed “Love Letters” for Steel Beam Theatre.


• WHAT: “Wake Up, Mrs. Moore” premiere by iambe theatre ensemble

• WHERE: Elgin Art Showcase, eighth floor, 164 Division St., Elgin

• WHEN: Weekends through April 28

• COST: $22

• INFORMATION: tinyurl.com/y2me5ust