Review: The Buzz that Is the Buzz (Curious Branch Theatre)

     
     

Mighty mind blowing

     
     

The Buzz That Is the Buzz - Curious Branch Theatre

   
Curious Theatre Branch presents
  
The Buzz That Is the Buzz
   
Written and Directed by Beau O’Reilly
at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through April 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what to make of The Buzz That Is the Buzz–or why it all hangs together as well as it does. Is it the fun of riffing on bad guys, whether they’re the most treacherous of villains, like Shakespeare’s’ Richard the Third or the old-style street thugs with a lingo all their own? Is it the play’s oddball mix of slackers/hipsters with down-and-out private eyes and excessively specialized gay shopkeepers? Curious Theatre Branch has brought a lot of curious avant garde things to light but Beau O’Reilly’s world premiere play gives audiences a hallucinogenic trip where every odd move and play on words fits just right and gels into a funky seamless whole. Then again—maybe it’s those damn chickens, freaky harbingers of guilt and doom and just plain freakiness. Idiot chickens!

Based on a play that was never written, a collaboration between O’Reilly and William Shakespeare called “The Doom In the Bud,” The Buzz That Is the Buzz pursues the aftermath of the evil deeds of Lord Agit (Jayita Bhattacharya), which are twice performed by the cast in shadow pantomime form. O’Reilly’s utilizes movement and shadow theater not only to underscore the work’s random, dreamlike theatricality but also to distance the audience from the characters they are seeing. Lord Agit quotes lines from Richard the Third with self-conscious, almost cartoon-style villainy. But Bhattacharya’s portrayal cannot be received any more heavily than Matt Rieger’s interpretation of Con, a gangster and hit man with a sense of beat poetry about everything he observes. Con’s accompanied by his muscle, Randy (played with tight-jawed hilarity by Beau O’Reilly), who’s obsessive pre-occupation with safety forms its own safety hazard.

Both old school Chicago gangsters are followed by Benny Benjamin (Brian Collins), a cop turned private detective, who’s face was burned in a fire set by Con after he’d dispatched two lives on Lord Agit’s commission. Benny follows the thugs through their various wanderings, as they make contact with people far outside their world–therapists, gay shopkeepers and hip youngsters taking their first crack at selling a drug called “the mighty mind blow.” It turns out that Lord Agit has her origins in the mighty mind blow and that the whole of the world of the play just might have its origins there, too.

More than anything else, the work is a kaleidoscopic interplay of words and movement and images—and somehow, in some mysterious part of the medulla oblongata, it all comes together brilliantly. Evil and its consequences and regret meet with curiosity, dialogue and a bit of healing power to connect. Most of O’Reilly’s characters are haunted; those damn chickens especially haunt Lord Agit, but the mad whirlwind of friends and strangers strangely juxtaposed with each other goes on. I suppose just the fact that they’re talking to each other at all is a celebration of a more hopeful world than the one we’ve usually got.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Artists

Cast

Kelly Anchors, Jayita Bhattacharya, Brian Collins, Courtney Kearney, Stephen Lehman, Beau O’Reilly, Matt Rieger & Jordan Stacey

Production

Beau O’Reilly (director); Joseph Riley (set design); Diane Hamm (costumes & masks).

  
  

Rhino Fest 2011: A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  

A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  
Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Spores of Eden by Peter Axel Komistra  
       

All plays reviewed by Paige Listerud

Time simply won’t allow for a thorough review of all the productions curated for Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. But an initial smattering might give you a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the deeply uncertain. Chicago’s fringe theater scene is clearly a subculture that depends on prior acquaintanceship—to know which fringe theater companies have a solid reputation for good work and which are still finding their feet and their voice. The following is a truly random selection of Rhino Fest 2011, a fruit salad of fringe, if you will, chosen for variety within the first weekends of the festival—many more productions remain throughout its 5-week run (through February 13). Check out the rest of its schedule.

Prop Thtr    

 All performances @ Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)

 

    
All The Flowers Are Dead - Curious Branch Theatre All That Fall by Samuel Beckett - at Rhino Fest

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents
 
All That Fall/All the Flowers Are Dead
 

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett

Judith Harding, Matthew Kopp, Kate O’Reilly, Meg Hauk and Beau O’Reilly beautifully revived this Beckett radio play, all the while seated at a table crammed with hats and various noisemakers for special effects. Mrs. Rooney (Harding) takes a sojourn from her home to the train station where she means to pick up her husband. Along the way, she runs into various neighbors who may be a help, a hindrance, a peril, or a temptation to her. Beckett’s love of the cadence of language out of Irish mouths suffuses All That Fall, even when characters acknowledge that they are speaking a dead or dying language. It’s a play in which the old survive, even through complaining about the weariness of going on. Youth is either dying or removed by more insidious means. Curious’ production was so charming, rich and evocatively rendered, it’s a pity they will not be performing All That Fall past the first weekend of Rhino Fest. This production truly deserves a remount. If their production of Mexico, a poem play by Gertrude Stein is done half as well, then Chicago audiences are in for a real treat.

All the Flowers Are Dead, written and directed by Matt Rieger

Matt Rieger’s script is almost American Primitive in its construction and dialogue. Two households live in grinding poverty and predictable misery. Jerome takes care of his ailing mother, hoping that his new job planting flowers for the Park District will give them a better chance. His girlfriend, Rusty, gives him a bicycle to get to and from work but she also pressures Jerome into further commitment. Meanwhile, Augie has to contend with his dad, Nicky, for whom another drink is always the right decision and mom is no help when she finally stops pressuring Nicky to find employment and joins him in drink. Sadly, the first half of Rieger’s play is too plodding and the dialogue too boilerplate to capture the imagination. The play only comes alive once Nicky, to regain his son’s affection, steals Jerome’s new bicycle to give to Augie. The play’s conclusion is devastating but takes far too long to get there, making All the Flowers Are Dead a work in progress more than a completed play.


Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre

   
Strange Lupus Theatre presents
  
Lemonade Stand
  
Written by Jordan Scrivner
Directed by
Ernest J. Ramon,
Sasha Samochina and Jordan Scrivner
thru Feb 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

It looks like another sunny day at the beach with a lovely young woman, Laura (Jessica Bailey), tending her humble and homey lemonade stand. But, in fact, it’s a way station on an asteroid at the other end of a wormhole, through which astronaut Alexander Russell (Ken Brown) has been propelled from his position on Earth’s moon. How did he get here and how will he get back—or go forward, since time and space have been thoroughly transcended? Laura’s answers Alex’s questions rather cryptically, plus the pair faces interruptions from a thoroughly goofy Professor (Crispin Rosenkranz), an affable and romantic delivery guy (Ernest J. Ramon) and a Russian gal (Sasha Samonchina) in disco attire. Strange Lupus’ production still looks rough around the edges–what with Brown coming off more like a confused actor than a confuse astronaut and Rosenkranz’s daffy, congenial professor still in need of refined comic timing. As is, Scrivner has a charming and profound script with Bailey and her delivery guy holding the production’s center. Simple but effective lighting effects from Maria Jacobson and Shannon Penkava, paired with Ramon and Samochina’s sound design, give Lemonade Stand its out-of-this-world vibe.

Featuring: Ken Brown, Jessica Bailey, Crispin Rosenkranz, Ernest Ramon, Sasha Samochina, Tommy Heffron, Paul Scudder

Sound Design by Ryan Dunn and Sasha Samochina


Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman

   
Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo present
   
Currency
    
Performed by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman
More information

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman have the consummate professionalism of a longstanding comic team. While undoubtedly their short theater pieces contain comic moments, their real intent is to go to the center of human movement, habit and meaning. “Coffee Cup Duet” establishes the rhythm of a simple business meeting over coffee, as well as the rituals inherent in meeting and needing transactions wherein coffee and its accoutrements establish the common ground. “’Napse” is a mysterious and unearthly piece, combining Glassman’s commonplace movements with the gargling, choking, chewing, distortions and whispers Glassman conjures from a small mic saddled in his cheek. One never knows where Glassman is going next with the world he creates from each garbled sound. The suspense alone leads to a finish that unites the everyday with eternity. “Time and Again” examines the stop and start repetitive habits of a couple over the issue of when to return a book to the library. Fay and Glassman’s timing is impeccable and interrogates the very coming and going, leaving or staying that makes a relationship. “Homeland” hits the hardest, with a solitary housewife moving backward in time, from the moment she weeps into a phone in her hand to the violation of her home that has provoked her upset. The piece chillingly depicts where we are now.


"The Spores of Eden" by Peter Axel Komistra, now playing at Prop Thtr as part of Chicago Rhino Fest

   
Two Weeks Productions presents
  
The Spores of Eden
    
Written by Peter Axel Komistra
Directed by
Dylan S. Roberts
thru Feb 12  | 
tickets: $12  |  more info

Agatha (Lisa Herceg) and her daughter Linda (Cathlyn Melvin) spare it out over the last egg out of a dozen Agatha has set out in an Easter egg hunt for Linda to find. Not finding the 12th egg, Linda gives up and refuses to go looking for it, even when it begins to rot and stink up the house. A battle of wills ensues when Agatha keeps replacing the rotten egg for Linda to find and Linda keeps refusing to go in search of it.  Decay becomes the only thing the two women know and seems to be the only thing by which the Father (Paul Cary), speaking posthumously, endorses—or so we think. Everything remains at an impasse until Topher (Rory Jobst), Linda’s banished brother, arrives one evening to try and understand his banishment and his wayward life ever since. Peter Komistra seems to not know what to do with characters with such implacable wills as he has crafted here. While the cast does an admirable job with Komistra’s language, the characters themselves only oppose or undermine each other but never reach any kind of clear and creative rapprochement. While it’s thoroughly legitimate to return the play’s circumstances to the same decaying state in which they begin, the conundrums of seeking or failing to find renewal also receive a muddled treatment in the course of the work. The Spores of Eden needs a strong editorial hand and clarification—and it may also benefit from not leaning so heavily on the “Book of Genesis”.

  
  

Mexico - Curious Branch Theatre - Chicago Rhino Fest

           
           

Unleash the Rhino!! (a festivus for the restofus)

  
 

Okay, Chicago theatergoers, time to get your fringe on

  
  

klutenyfinal

Written by Paige Listerud

Curious Theatre Branch opened its 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theatre Festival this past Friday, January 14th, drawing hundreds of avant-garde theater artists from around the country to showcase over 20 off-beat and experimental works and performances at the Prop Theatre space. Curious Theatre remounts Sarah Kane’s critically acclaimed 4:48 Psychosis under the direction of Beau O’Reilly, plus an adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s little known play, Mexico. Expect mind-opening and consciousness-bending theater experiences from School for Designing a Society, Deja Links, Strange Lupus, BoyGirlBoyGirl, The Whiskey Rebellion and many, many more.

“We’ve struck an interesting balance between past and future with this festival,” explains Beau O’Reilly. “We decided to accept Deja Links—they’re a continuation of Club Lower Links which Leigh Jones ran in the 1990s. Even though Rhino Fest began around the same time, they’re really pre-Rhino and a lot of performance art was generated out of there. It’s where Ira Glass and David Sedaris got started. So, we have a significant number of people represented from that period—older artists doing some very mature and complete work, like Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo and then, of course, we showcase some student work from the SAIC and full-length work from young writers.”

Curious Theatre also kicked off the Fest with a benefit opening night–the Full Moon Vaudeville, hosted by Curious and the Crooked Mouth String Band.

psychosis


 

Rhino Festival Schedule

for more information, visit the Rhino Festival website

All tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door  |  Buy tickets  |   See calendar.

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents

4:48 Psychosis

By Sarah Kane

Sarah Kane’s last play returns in a critically acclaimed production directed by Beau O’Reilly.

The play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love.Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love. Talk back / post show panel discussion with director John Moletress, the cast and crew and invited guest speakers (TBA).Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love Spiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into loveSpiked with gallous humor, the play charts the journey from life into death, from darkness into light, from pain into love

Performance Dates: Friday, January, 14, 21, 28, February 4, 11.  All dates at 7pm


School for Designing A Society presents

10 to 4

directed by Susan Parenti

An acoustic play which twists shards of political activism and thought’s aging into the brain of language.

Saturday, January 29 and Sunday, January 30 at 7pm


Lisa Fay & Jeff Glassman Duo presents

Currency

Dense theater shorts in which ‘natural-looking’ behavior is subjected to contortions, subversions and convolutions, letting ‘natural’ show its socially constructed face.

Friday, January 21, Saturday, January 22 and Sunday, January 23 at 7pm

  
  

See the rest of the schedule after the jump.

  
  

mexico

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REVIEW: Jenny & Jenni (Factory Theater)

     
     

Funky Freestyle Aerobic Friendship

     
     

DSC_7002

   
The Factory Theater presents
   
Jenny & Jenni
   
Written by Shannon O’Neill
Directed by Laura McKenzie
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston  (map)
through Dec 18 |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what drugs inspired Shannon O’Neill’s disco-fevered aerobic dance flashback, but Jenny & Jenni, a new comedy produced by The Factory Theater at Prop Theatre’s space, throws down a litany of 1970’s zaniness like no other. The show begins with the claim that—forget Jane Fonda–these two fictional exercise queens were the real start of the 70’s workout craze. Jenny (Shannon O’Neill), spelled normally with a “y,” and Jenni (Christine Jennings), spelled weirdly with an “i,” are high school rejects with crappy, self-absorbed and neglectful parents. They find each other and take the audience on a ride through every absurd 70’s trend with all the Jenny and Jenni posterhyped-up positive outlook of your favorite 70’s sitcom.

Laura McKenzie directs this picaresque ode to the evolutionary beginnings of jazzercise, spandex, and headbands. The show comes in under two and a half hours but for all that, McKenzie runs a tight, organized and whipsmart ensemble. Even transitions between scenes are choreographed with military precision to keep energy up and the fun going; the cast drives the show from beginning to end at an exacting pace. 70’s tunes dominate the dance/aerobic choreography of Donnell Williams, so rest assured the actors are feeling the burn while they joke about feeling it.

By far, the comedy standouts are Nick Leininger, taking on roles such as a smarmy Health Teacher and an encounter group leader, among others. William Bullion makes yet another deadpan funny fringe appearance as Riggins, the principal of Jenny and Jenni’s high school, who is absolutely plum loco about Scottish heritage. High school archenemy Lola St. James (Aileen May) and her gang of mean girls (Kathryn Hribar, Elizabeth Levy, Kim Boler and Sarah Scanlon) try to keep Jenny and Jenni down but Mr. Riggins gives them their first big morale boost to hit the road and build their aerobic workout dream.

Jenny & Jenni has a wild assortment of hilarious scenes. There’s the Scottish Highland Dance competition with Mr. Riggins and his stiff, proper Scottish sidekick, Aidan (Ted Evans). There’s the hallucinogenic drug scene, when, Jenny and Jenni posterdemoralized, Jenny and Jenni lose track of their dream and go off on wild benders of their own. There’s the encounter group session—a scene that deserves its own award for bringing back hysterical reminders of the prevalence of Me Generation pop psychology. There’s the reintroduction of Kathryn Hribar as Crazy Person, which single-handedly manages to amp up the crazy quotient for the whole second act.

The show could still use a strong editorial hand. The aerobic dance-off between Jenny and Jenni’s entourage versus Lola St. James’ Studio 54-style entourage veers into train wreck territory and loses its comic impact. Plus, the show tries for a sweet and happy ending with a reformed Lola seeing the error of her ways. The transformation is neither emotionally convincing nor even necessary, comically speaking. As for the friendship between Jenny and Jenni, O’Neill and Jennings have a wonderfully simple, understated and convincing bond but more humor could be made of their fabulously bizarre, mutual desire to get down and boogie-oogie-oogie.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
      
     

DSC_8061

Ensemble

Wm. Bullion, Kim Boler, Matt Engle, Ted Evans, Kathyrn Hribar, Christine Jennings, Nick Leininger, Elizabeth Levy, Aileen May, Shannon O’Neill, Sarah Scanlon

Production and Creative Team

Directed By: Laura McKenzie
Written by: Shannon O’Neill
Produced by: Manny Tamayo & Timothy C. Amos
Scenic Designer: Ian Zywica
Sound Designer: Brian Lucas
Lighting Designer: Jordan Kardasz
Costume Designer: Emma Weber
Technical Director: Dan Laushman
Choreographer: Donnell Williams
Props Master: Josh Graves
Stage Manager: Allison Queen
Asst. Stage Manager: Christina Dougherty
Graphic Designer: Jason Moody

Original Music By: Laura McKenzie

 
 

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REVIEW: The New Adventures of Popeye (Factory Theater)

  
  

Strong the to finish, ‘cause they eat their spinach!

   

      
Factory Theater presents
   
The New Adventures of Popeye
   
Directed by Eric Roach
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through Dec 17   |  tickets: $8   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Factory Theater has a late-night theater offering, The New Adventures of Popeye – but one wonders whether it shouldn’t be pared down and placed just before Jenny & Jenni in the way that cartoon shorts used to warm up the audience in movie theaters before the feature. Directed by Eric Roach, with John Moran (Popeye), Sarah Rose Graber (Olive Oyl) and Dave Skvarla (Bluto), the team absolutely nail the Popeye - Factory Theatercartoon mannerisms, voices and movement of their characters. Their goal is to produce Popeye for adults, which in some ways is rather redundant, since the original cartoons always had Popeye mumbling witty asides that the adults could get a chuckle over, while the kids reveled in the cartoon’s hyperbolic physical comedy and routine sparring between Popeye and Bluto over Olive.

Eric Roach and cast (which include Lina Bunte and Colin Milroy) also try to update Popeye with contemporary themes and concerns. For openers, Popeye and Bluto compete in selling their apples at a farmers market. Popeye’s apples are organically grown while Bluto’s reek of harmful chemicals. But the premise comes off as preachy more than funny; even now it’s difficult to see two iconically stereotypical seamen like Popeye and Bluto getting into farming, organic or otherwise.

The other sketches prove to be much funnier: couples-counseling for Popeye and Olive Oyl, the travails of air flight for all three. I wonder if there’s still time to put in material about ex-ray screening and full-body pat downs. Whatever the case, the production comes off much cleaner when returning to the original comic structure of the cartoon, which has always been about two guys fighting over a gal—a skinny, rubbery, mewling kind of gal. Pleasant and pure nostalgia holds the audience, as well as marvel over the ease with which the cast physically and bracingly evokes the cartoon’s clownish effects.

     
  
Rating: ★★½
  

 

Cast

John Moran is Popeye
Sarah Rose Graber* is Olive Oyl
David Skvarla is Bluto
Lina Bunte is Female Koken
Colin Milroy* is Male Koken

Production

Directed by Eric Roach*
Geoff Coates is the Fight Director
Amy C Gilman is the Props Designer
Jason Weinberg is the Stage Manager

   
  

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REVIEW: Debris of the Prophet (Prop Thtr)

 

When Reality Is More Interesting Than Fiction

 

Mark Kollar, Rick Edward Reardon from Prop Thtr's "Debris of the Prophet"

   
Prop Thtr presents
  
Debris of the Prophet
   
Written by Paul Carr
Directed by
Stefan Brun and Scott Vehill
at
Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)
through October 10  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Socio-politically, we are going through some pretty crazy times. If you read the papers, you’ll know there’s a virtual Holy War being waged right now between religious fundamentalists. Bitter conflicts, such as protests over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero and the threat by a Florida pastor to burn a pile of Korans, exemplify this mounting tension.

Shalaka Kulkarni from Prop Thtr's "Debris of the Prophet" This rabid passion makes for great drama. And this drama has its share of thespians, from the aforementioned pastor Terry Jones to political pundits like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. You’d think with such characters and tension, these real-life tales of religious zealousness would translate with ease to the stage.

Unfortunately, Prop Theatre’s Debris of the Prophet fails to facilitate this transition from reality to fantasy in nearly every way possible. Written by Paul Carr, the play has as much action as a college lecture and no character development beyond establishing trite archetypes. Throw in the fact that the whole thing is bursting with self-importance and you have one extremely unpolished production.

Debris of the Prophet concerns a political cartoonist simply named Bob (Rick Edward Reardon). Bob’s editor (Mark Kollar) has given him the opportunity to draw a series of religious-themed political cartoons to help attract readership. The idea is that controversial cartoons about religion will incite people, for better or worse, to pick up the paper. Unfortunately, Bob’s a little too skilled in striking the nerves of Muslims, Jews and Christians. What results is a mass protest in front of the news building, which eventually leads to violence and destruction.

The second act takes a dramatic turn into the realm of pure fantasy. Bob is sucked inside one of his own political cartoons where he encounters the physical embodiments of the three major religions. The three religions debate whether or not to kill Bob as punishment for his blasphemy.

Debris of the Prophet is practically devoid of plot. Very little really happens throughout the course of the play. In fact, the first act is composed of two redundant scenes that stretch on for way too long, while the second act amounts to a long-winded diatribe on the perils of religion and the importance of free speech.

In addition, there is almost no energy put into character development. We know very little about Bob other than he’s a cartoonist, and, thanks to a very fleeting and forced mention, his wife died of cancer. It soon becomes obvious that he is merely a two-dimensional prop that Carr uses to convey his thoughts on politics and religion.

Andy Somma, Rick Edward Reardon from Prop Thtr's "Debris of the Prophet"

None of this is helped by Stefan Brun and Scott Vehill’s lazy direction. A news reporter (Shalaka Kulkarni), whose accounts of unrest and destruction punctuate the play’s scenes, unconvincingly stands and ducks from unseen gunfire in front of the darkened stage. This gave me no sense of the reporter’s environment or the actual chaos ravaging the city, save for a few gunfire sound effects. In addition, characters rarely move from their marks and almost never cross the center point of the stage. What you end up with is all talk and no movement.

The only reason I didn’t give this play one star is because I can see this same script, with ample revisions, working for a 20-minute one act. The concept of a political cartoonist who gets sucked into his own controversial creation is rife with opportunity. However, as a full-length play, the novelty quickly wears off.

Debris of the Prophet starts off weak and ends up trudging across the finish line. For a show inspired by fascinating events, it’s surprising just how boring it is. If you really want to see a good socio-political drama unfold, just turn on the evening news.

   
   
Rating: ★½
   
   

Debris of the Prophet poster

REVIEW: Leaving Timmy (The Sweet Life)

How long should a parent grieve?

 

 Leaving Timmy - Le Bateau de Papier

  
The Sweet Life presents
 
Leaving Timmy
   
Written by Paul Barile
Directed by
Zach Johnson-Dunlop
Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, Chicago (map)
Through Aug. 15  | Tickets: $10–15  info: 773-539-7838

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

If your husband told you he had seen — and spoken with — your dead child, how would you react? Concern? Fear? Delight? Would you send for a straightjacket or a spiritualist?

In Paul Barile’s thought-provoking drama Leaving Timmy, Maggie Conrad reacts with outrage — an odd and off-putting reaction. At the outset of this very uneven play, currently in world premiere by Barile and Director Zach Johnson-Dunlop’s new theater company, The Sweet Life, a misplaced bottle of glue implies that her husband Tim’s extremely palpable visions of his drowned son are more than his imagination, but the plot never follows up this loose end, and so we come to believe that the manifestations of Timmy arise not from the supernatural, but from Tim’s yearning grief over his lost child.

Maggie herself has so far recovered from their son’s demise that she can refer to him coldly as "that little boy." Her impatience with Tim’s continued mourning makes her a very unlikeable character. Tim only wants to be left alone to recover in his own way, but Maggie pushes her reluctant husband to visit a psychologist, even before he mentions what he’s seen. Her husband’s sister, Annie, shares her view, and the two women gang up on Tim, urging him to get on with his life, even to go back to waterfront activities. Maggie threatens to leave if he doesn’t.

One might be able to understand their perspective had it been many years since Timmy’s death. We’re left wondering about that through the first act, but in Act II we learn the boy drowned in a boating accident only the previous summer. Some people grieve for dead pets longer than that! In Judaism, mourners must visit a synagogue for daily public prayers of mourning for a year months after the death of certain family members. A year seems a very short time to get over the unexpected loss of a child.

Mental-health professionals acknowledge that there’s no time limit on healing. "We begin the process every morning when we get out of bed," Tim says in one of the script’s many good lines. Yet Dr. Baldwin, the psychologist Maggie’s ultimatum forces Tim to see, bizarrely tells him, "You need to get of everything that’s associated with Timmy."

In the hands of a highly skilled cast, we might be able to get past this problem but Ben Campana and Andrea Lucius’s awkward performances as the bereaved couple just make us doubt how much of their stiffness is acting. Despite their protestations of love, the two display little physical chemistry, not even that sparking familiarity of long-married couples who no longer get along too well.

Campana manages his highly mobile face beautifully, but many of his lines seem forced. He’s more at ease in scenes with 9-year-old Nolan Oakes, who does an admirable job as the imaginary, but solid Timmy, drifting in and out to play "Ikka Bikka Soda Cracker" with his dad, cryptic and mysterious.

Lucius also overacts. She’s good at anger but less so at grief or love. However, she performs so much more smoothly in cozy sequences with the glib and lovely Whitney Kraus, who portrays Annie, that one starts to speculate whether the story was going to delve even further into dysfunctional-family complications.

A sedate Julie Ostrow plays Dr. Baldwin. Her introduction, in Act II, plays havoc with Johnson-Dunlop’s blocking and pacing.

The set, a sparely furnished living room, featuring a battered armchair, some beat-up tables and a shabby sofa covered in a mural throw, is continually distracting. Through much of Act I, we’re wondering whether the picture on the blanket will turn out to be a smoking gun of any significance and if the dilapidation of the furnishings reflects the poverty of the play’s characters or merely that of the theater company.

Then in Act II, scene changes to Baldwin’s office slow the action as we wait for cast and crew to slowly drag furniture across the stage — distracting us, from the plot, to ponder why the chair had to be at stage right when it could only be brought in from the other side. It would have been better to dispense with heavy furniture and use the usual boxes or other makeshifts that audiences of off-off-off-Loop theater are fully capable of imagining as whatever they need to be.

Barile, who was once music columnist for Chicago’s erstwhile Lerner Newspapers while I was the paper’s entertainment editor, has crafted a powerful theme with interesting insights, but Leaving Timmy still needs improvement on all fronts.

   
   
Rating: ★★