Chicago Theatre Review
Are Chuckles Enough For You?
Big Lake Big City at Lookingglass Theatre Company
Wrapping up Lookingglass’ 25th anniversary season is the world premier of Big Lake Big City, a comedic “modern noir thriller” directed by ensemble member David Schwimmer and written by Keith Huff (A Steady Rain). Audiences will enjoy the fast-paced quips and constant references to Chicago, an aspect that at first glance may cause this to appear a perfect fit for the theatre company based in the historic Water Tower Water Works on Michigan Avenue. Yet I left feeling surprised at this addition to the season—and surprised at the confusion I felt, instead of the exhilaration with which I have typically left this particular theater in the past.
Big Lake Big City makes for a night of light laughter at the rapid banter of a host of colorful characters. The many series of sharp comebacks are fun—for a while. The audience’s attention is whisked back and forth from one storyline to another as the various characters’ paths begin to cross and a murder is investigated, but as time went on I got overwhelmed and lost track of what was happening. I’m of the fast-talking generation and loved the breakneck speed, but with so much going on I simply had trouble following the plot.
Part of the problem was that by the end of intermission I had already forgotten a lot of the characters. With so many of them—a cast of ten, with some actors playing multiple roles—there is little character development, which meant I had little motivation to figure out what was happening once I got lost. It isn’t the fault of the actors, who fully commit to some pretty absurd personas and situations (a man with a screwdriver in his head, a Xanax-chugging travel agent, etc.). Instead, the script needs to help us out a little and give us a chance to know and care about the people in one corner of the stage before bouncing to a glimpse of those in another.
For a long time I assumed that I just needed patience. But as soon as I had grasped an idea of the plot based on the detective and the psychologist, I second guessed it for the involvement of the former hooker and the guy who faked his death…only to be frustrated as we switched to a construction worker who seemed to have little to do with any of them, or a coroner whose purpose in the story I never figured out. Multiple storylines can be fun to follow, but only if we are able to follow them (or have a reason to try).
Finally I gave up on my need for logic and love of character, deciding to just sit back, chuckle, and enjoy the representation of the L, Navy Pier, and other Chicago attributes. If that is enough for you, I’m sure you will enjoy the silly characters and familiar setting.
But if not, I am hesitant to recommend it, since I would prefer a play with more character development and consistency. Some aspects of the show are realistic, some absurd, but the combo meant that overall I just didn’t buy it. The playful mood comes and goes, which makes the double takes and unrealistic scenarios feel odd. The storytelling is perhaps too all over the place, split between the actors and a somewhat random talking stone head (which, by the way, it seems like the playwright forgot about after the beginning and remembered again at the end).
While the production quality and performers are as impressive as ever, I think the script could use some work and found this a confusing choice for Lookingglass, even as I applaud the full-fledged launch of a new world premier.
Big Lake Big City, written by Keith Huff and directed by David Schwimmer, runs June 29 through August 11 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.
Tickets range from $36-70 and can be purchased at lookingglasstheatre.org or 312-337-0665.
Reviewed by Darcy Rose Coussens.
Additional information about this and other area productions is available at www.theatreinchicago.com.