REVIEW: Adore (XIII Pocket Theatre)

Not your dad’s idea of a dinner date.

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Thirteen Pocket (XIII Pocket) presents:

Adore

Written and directed by Stephen Louis Grush
Through April 25th at
Steppenwolf Garage (more info)

by Ian Epstein

What is palatable theater?  Can a show about cannibalism be savory and wholesome?

XIII Pocket‘s Adore, a multimedia mix of stage and screen raises questions like these.  It’s one of three shows being performed at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre in repertory as part of their Visiting Company Initiative and it tells the star-crossed love story of Armin (Eric Leonard) and Bernd (Paige Smith). In Adore, writer/director (and Artistic Director of XIII Pocket) Stephen Louis Grush paints a disturbing psychological portrait of two men whose definitions of love converge not in the bedroom but on the dinner plate.

Adore2 Armin is a modern German citizen — and he would also lead us to believe that he’s a cannibal trapped in the body of a mild-mannered, small-town German citizen since his birth.  And it’s notable that Armin lives in a little village down the street and around the corner from a house once occupied by the Brother’s Grimm. Armin talks straight to the audience in a rambling, psychologically revealing monologue that tells his story and his character. 

He badly wants to be in love.  He has been looking for a long time – his whole life, even – but he’s never found that perfect dinner date. He explains this, mixed in with other digressions, in his monologue and at times illustrated by projections onto a gorgeous gilt-framed movie-screen.  The digressions are balanced and delivered to elicit a certain amount of sympathy for this lovelorn, anthropophagic character. Armin sees the consumption of a lover as an act of all-consuming love.

Then we meet Bernd — a tight-lipped, in-the-closet, Berlin businessman who is restless and bored with a life that he knows is enviable and a lover he knows is dedicated. Paige Smith is a brilliant Bernd, bringing a lightness to the character that even elicits laughs.  He does a wonderful job speaking in dialog to pre-shot movie footage and not having it sound affected or interruptive. At the end of the day, Bernd just really wants to be eaten.

Adore1Through the decentralized, anonymous, immaterial monolith that is the internet, Armin awkwardly meets Bernd, his true love, who is the man that he will eat for dinner.

Adore feels like it’s set in one of those dark, fraying, seldom-seen corners of the mind.  It takes all the ephemeral strengths of live theater and blends them with horror-movie-like traumatic flashes and flashbacks. 

Technically it’s very strong; Adore blends stage and screen with effortless naturalism — something that’s very often attempted but usually ends up failing.  But form aside, Adore is a show with content that’s tough to handle.    It’s technically admirable qualities emphasize the disturbing core of the story: people who willingly undertake an act of anthropophagy as love.  Adore strays inadvertently into the tradition of playwright’s like Sarah Kane or Antonin Artaud with his Theater of Cruelty, where theater is used like a violent shake to wake up a sleeper. 

Is Adore an accurate title?  Dangerous question.

Rating: ★★½

REVIEW: punkplay (Pavement Group at Steppenwolf)

Even high school sub-cultures demand conformity.

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Pavement Group presents:

punkplay

written by Gregory Moss
directed by David Perez
Through April 25th at Steppenwolf Garage (more info)

by Barry Eitel

punkplay_1_photobyPeterCoombs You can tell Gregory Moss’ play punkplay is pretty rebellious from the fact that the title refuses to be capitalized. Pavement Group tears up Moss’ play as their entry to Steppenwolf’s new Garage Rep rotation that showcases several exciting young Chicago companies. This 75-minute crude, rude, yet ultimately fascinating drama tells the tale of two teenage boys (a gangly Alexander Lane and Matt Farabee , who doesn’t look a day over 14) growing up in Reagan’s America and diving head first into the world of punk rock. Over the ensuing year or so from hearing their first punk record, we get to watch the duo start a band, idolize girls along with more extreme (read: homeless) punks, and masturbate (a few times). Moss’ script has its holes, but director David Perez and his energetic cast railroad right over them. If you can stomach the scuzziness, this is one great coming-of-age story.

I was wondering which choices were Perez’s decisions or written in the play. Either way, the semi-presentational/realistic/fantastical world located in the Steppenwolf Garage space grabs you and doesn’t let go. Scenic designer Grant Sabin, who actually designed all three shows, has created something like a robo-tripping Glass Menagerie. The set is simple but allows for all sorts of manipulation, projection, and imagination. Nearly all of the products, including beer, comics, and erotic videos, are painted white and slapped with a simple eponymous label, a homage to punk classic Repo Man (which starred a young Emilio Estevez).

Also, all the actors wear roller skates (sort of a Sex Pistol’s Starlight Express)

Lane and Farabee have a great energy together. Somewhat zombified, Duck (Lane) sees himself as the ultimate judge of what is punk. Mickey (Farabee) is bright-eyed and impressionable, yet comes across as much more diverse than his close-minded counterpart. The cast is rounded out by Keith Neagle and Tanya McBride, who play multiple parts with gusto. One of the most bizarre dream/hallucination sequences I’ve ever seen features McBride in a bikini top and a Reagan mask. It’s an image that won’t leave me for a long time.

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punkplay_2_photobyPeterCoombs Punkplay 0062

Moss’ play covers a lot of territory; his characters trek the already epic journey of high school with the added objective of tearing down the bourgeois, Molly Ringwald culture that surrounds them. It’s a monumental task. Moss does a pretty good job of navigating this tumultuous world, but the script could be condensed. Mickey and Duck take in a pair of transients from Montreal at one point, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also, Duck’s family situation is explained in the first scene when he moves in with Mickey (he was kicked out of his house), but not much information is given about Mickey’s familial life. You begin to wonder what his parents think about him harboring Duck in his room, which transforms from a stark suburban white to a vomit of graffiti. That missing relationship doesn’t take away much because the production wallows in abstraction, but it would be nice to know something about it (which might be a whole play in itself: groundedplay). Some of the longer speeches wax poetical, and audience interest drops. Some information is extraneous and some is muddled, which suggests Perez and Moss could make the show tighter.

Perez’s production shows how tough and confusing it can be to grow up, like “Breakfast Club” with more spike chokers. Duck and Mickey must face the fact that the punk scene might just be another high school subculture demanding conformity. Luckily, the Black Flag records give way to Sonic Youth, not Sum 41, and we all learn something about ourselves.

Rating: ★★★