BOB

This is another show from the 35th Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre, so bear in mind that it’s experimental and modern and such. BOB is a much more straightforward play than A Devil at Noon, which was the other work that I got a ticket to with my season pass. It is an easy play to like, filled with light humor and absurdity, with enough drama and poignancy to feel like more than a trifle. It’s sweet and sentimental and silly. It might not be the deepest work out there, since its message is ultimately a fairly pedestrian one, but it’s entertaining and a pleasant way to spend an evening, full of hope and celebration of human connectedness and spirit.

It’s not without its flaws. The inter-act dances smack a little too much of aggressive experimentalism for its own sake, and the softball teasing leveled at institutions like the Chicago Cubs and Starbucks somewhat reduce its otherwise strong sense of universality and timelessness. There were a few rough patches in the performances where actors stumbled over their lines (rather a surprise to me, since Actors generally has solid casts), although this was largely redeemed by the strength of the chorus members’ performances overall. One excellent aspect of the play, which might be either an aspect as written or of this specific performance was the characterization synchronicity which individual chorus members maintained through their various roles. Particular props to Danny Scheie, whose flamboyant and exuberant performance very nearly upstaged the protagonist.

Oh, and an aside to someone who is probably not reading this: my deepest apologies to the unfortunate whose bike I apparently managed to block in when I parked mine. I have no idea how that happened but I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, to you or anyone else.

See also: premiere at Actors Theatre.

A Devil at Noon

I saw this as part of the 35th Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre; it’s thus a bleeding-edge new play, with all the experimentalism and quality variation that might entail. As experimental new plays go, it’s not bad, although it’s riddled with pitfalls for the unwary. The first act is largely bewildering, consisting mostly of apparently unrelated monologues and extended mime sequences with foley effects. I knew from the blurb that it was supposed to be, after a fashion, a Philip K. Dick-flavored work, so I expected bewilderment but with a greater thematic cohesion, and by the intermission I was totally lost and really hoping the second act put it all back together.

To its credit, the play did end up eventually tying together most of its disparate threads (I’m still scratching my head about the symbolism of the oft-repeated moon motif), and does so in a manner properly in line with what I expect from Dick inspiration: confusion of identity and reality, with discourse on the interaction of creativity and perception. By the end of the evening, I had felt like I had digested a satisfactory work, while at the intermission I was quite certain it was a hopeless mess. From an expectation-management point of view, I’d call this work problematic: I think a fair part of the audience gave up at intermission. There were aspects that might’ve been tightened up to give it, even early on, a bit more drive and purpose: either dropping or better contextualizing the strange moon segments, and shortening the dialogueless mime segments (to be as unspoilery as possible: the mime/foley elements which serve in the place of actual stage setting actually have a plot-relevant purpose, but the sections where they’re manipulated without dialogue really slow the play down). However, for those of us who persisted to the end, I think the play ended up being a treat. If it could be structured in a way to give the audience greater faith that it’s actually going somewhere, it’d be even better.

As for the details of this specific performance: Actors is generally a good group, and they did well here. Leading actor Joseph Adams displays a moderate range, mostly on the wryly contemplative side but bringing some animation to the character when called for; Rebecca Hart’s range, which seems a bit more limited at first (her role seems to be the Quirky Younger Love Interest) opens up dramatically and she rises to the occasion. The other actors have less demanding roles but work well with them. The foley (and where necessary special effects) were good, and in spite of my distaste for the overuse of the mechanism, I have to register admiration for the extent to which the actors and sound crew made the no doubt difficult effect synchronization work live.

See also: premiere at Actors Theatre.