REVIEW: The Earl (The Inconvenience)


Now extended through March 2nd!

Strange brotherly love in company’s inaugural production


The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Ryan Borque.

The Inconvenience i/a/w A Red Orchid Theatre presents
The Earl
Written by Brett Neveu
Directed by
Duncan Riddell
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map)
through Feb 23 March 2  |  tickets: $15  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan E. Jakes

Edward Bond’s miscreants have some competition for Theatre’s Most Twisted Youngsters in Brett Neveu’s grisly dark comedy, The Earl.

The Inconvenience’s revival marks the ensemble’s first professional production and the play’s third presentation, following an independent film adaptation by Jim Sikora four years ago and A Red Orchid’s original six-month run in 2006. From the looks of it, The Earl’s blood is still pumping strong.

Danny Goldring, now starring in 'The Earl' by The Inconvenience at A Red Orchid Theatre.  Photo credit Ryan Borque.Strong, or at least bountiful, gushing from the limbs and noses of its characters and streaming down the walls of its set.

The story is straightforward: three brothers reunite in an abandoned basement office for a high stakes game of physical abuse. Think bloody knuckles, but the Olympic version, with faces and knees substituting for knuckles and crowbars substituting for quarters.

Why? Probably for the same reason children in school yards voluntarily play “wall ball” (the innocent title doesn’t imply the notorious “no-block crotch-shots rule“, does it?), or the more presumptive “smear the queer.” Who knows. The rules of the brothers’ contest are never made quite clear–there’s a lot of counting and letters and special exceptions–but it’s not for us to know the details, is it? As Artistic Director Christopher Chmelik puts it in his program note, “[There’s] no judging panel or officials with the final say. The brothers wrote the rule book,” and that book remains a secret. Sick as it may be, the in’s-and-out’s of the unnamed game are honored with a special family bond not extended to outside ranks.

So, when famous action star Lawrence Stephens (played with a nice blend of kitsch and menace by Danny Goldring) is invited to join the brawl, assuming the role of an “Earl,” the game takes a brutal turn for the unexpected.

Like any good thriller, Neveu’s text layers its release of information slowly and unpredictably. Director and A Red Orchid Literary Manager Duncan Riddell paces the action carefully. I didn’t want to see too much, but I couldn’t look away. It’s a ballet of watching and wincing. When violence does erupt, Fight Choreographers Chuck Coyle and Ryan Bourque don’t disappoint. Theatre isn’t the greatest outlet for action (at least in the “wham-bam” sense), so fight choreography typically amounts to aggressive dancing. With the help of a collaborative young cast, Riddell overcomes the form’s limitations and uses the full visual and aural spectrum to create an exhilarating illusion.

Danny Goldring and cast in The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Erica Jaree.

It’s fair to say that The Earl has more balls than brains, but that’s not to say it‘s dumb. This is an impressive, quick-witted ensemble, and the young trio has built a fascinating, mostly unspoken family dynamic. Among the sadomasochistic clan is Ryan Borque (Kent), a gangly, giggly ball of tics. He’s the severest case of arrested development of the group, and brings an estranged, juvenile sense of joy to the chaos around him, even when injured. Bourque is captivating, remaining charismatic with a broken nose. Likewise, Walter Briggs (Peter) and Chris Chmelik (Rick) know their backgrounds and supply the given circumstances that raise the show above the level of wrestling match to bold work of theatre.

The Earl works as a one-act, but when the house lights came up for curtain call, I was hoping we were at intermission. The dramatic ground work and characterization are laid for a full-length play, and though the show is structurally complete, it did leave me wanting to see more story fleshed out. It originally ran as a late-night show, and likely works better with that mentality going in. But even at 8, it’s a thrilling little piece of pulp fiction. And for that, I’m game.

Rating: ★★★

Danny Goldring and cast in The Inconvenience's 'The Earl' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo credit Erica Jaree.




  Walter Briggs Peter
  Ryan Borque Kent
  Chris Chmelik Rick
  Danny Goldring Lawrence Stephens


Scenic Design

Duncan Riddell Director
  John Holt  
  Joe Court Sound Design
  Nic Jones Lighting Design
  Ryan Borque Fight Choreographer
  Chuck Coyl Fight Advisor
  Mary Williamson Costume Design
  Mackenzie Yeager Stage Manager
  Brian Rad Assistant Director

2 Responses

  1. Given the glowing nature of the review, why only 3 stars? The one-act is a noble dramatic form, one which gets far too little stage-time. Kudos, though, for recognizing the ‘dance-like’ (and poetic–punctuated by stillness and silence) qualities of director Duncan Ridell’s handling of the material and the psychological sophistication of the brothers’ dynamic…Of course, in reprising his role from the earlier production, Danny Goldring is, for time immemorial, THE EARL!
    Although a long-time fan of Brett Neveu, A Red Orchid (where, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve had an association spanning 15+ years),
    I was not thrilled by the previous production 4 years ago, because it lacked these very qualities…The direction did not, I thought, do justice to the subtly (yes! indeed, that is the word I wanted) of the piece. No longer done in late-night, (just) rock ’em, sock ’em fashion (even the postcard announcement featured a garish comic-book figure, Riddell and the Inconvenience give us a an homage/send up/devastating social satire of the times in which we live (particularly our ‘adulation’ of celebrity and on-going, ever-increasing and highly-dissociative response (to borrow Susan Sontag’s brilliant phrase)
    ” ‘regarding” the pain of others’ “. While I understand the wish for a ‘fleshed out’ version of THE EARL, that there is ‘no fat’, simply flesh, muscle, bones, blood, brains and brainings in this play, makes , I believe, a one of a kind work of drama
    (yes–I know it’s a ‘dark comedy’), presented in a not-to-be-missed fashion.

    • Thanks for reading. I agree with your comment about one-acts. Plays that run 60-90 minutes tend to “cut out the fat,” as you say, and I think more audiences would be encouraged to attend theatre events if they knew they didn’t always have to invest 2 to 3 hours per show. They also offer a structure that plays to a different dramatic aim. There are some great one-acts running in Chicago now, “Shining City” at Redtwist Theatre being one of them.

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