Chicago Theatre Review
Jet Black Chevrolet and We Three – Side Project
Or: Hammer Horror
I find is oddly fitting that the same haunted Lay-Z-Boy recliner should appear in both The Side Projects attempts at psychological horror in the dark drizzling twilight of the year. The shows, Jet Black Chevrolet by Scott T. Barsotti and We Three by Mary Hamilton, share many commonalities with that particular species of furniture; for despite the best intentions of all parties and the best intentions of the manufacturers, the experience is bulky and slippery, possessing only one trick, and generally makes you wish you had chosen something else to sit in.
In Jet Black Chevrolet a married couple struggles to find normalcy in the sea of uncertainty. Agoraphobic Catherine (Diana Slickman) has not slept in two weeks, while her husband Sam (Robert Koon), who has problems of his own, tries to mind her and keep his own mind at rest while they wait for word of their son, Zach, who mysteriously vanished some weeks ago. When a sinister black car appears outside their home Catherine’s nerves are stretched to the breaking point.
A professed champion of the horror genre, Barsotti is very much a young playwright: the set ups and surprises have a youthful, unpolished edge to them, a sense of “this is a surprise”. He succeeds in sending shivers down our spines (particularly during the Couch story told by Julie (Kathryn Acosta) Zach’s girlfriend), but for want of the pondered danger in the actual action of the play, and vice versa, the story only simmers, never boils. The play does offer a compelling portrait of a marriage lubricated with lies: Sam (aided by Koon’s furtive glances and stuttered speech) must be careful of the comforts he puts into Catherine’s head: like Mr. Rochester, he must keep his ear cocked for the footsteps in the attic, as he himself goes steadily madder below. The nefarious intent of the outside world is best depicted by light designer Ivy Reid, who takes a simple set of blinds and gives them teeth of light.
In We Three, a small winter bound town is thrown into turmoil when an elderly citizen Grace Miller (Ann James) sees a unknown girl break through the ice of the local creek. When no body can be found, suspicion begins to mount against the local misfit and handyman Dustin (Adam Shalzi) whose “friends-just-friends” friend Daisy (Stevie Chaddock) tries to ward off his awkward advances and deal with the crippling pain in her stomach.
Though much more deft in applying and knitting up mystery, Hamilton scuttles her play almost immediately. Her characters do not really communicate anything but spit out information or wants at each other like telegraph messages, “But- (stop) I mean- (stop) That creek is a real hazard! (stop)”. This chirpy, bloodless style (which leeches any subtly from the characters and leavings them mere caricatures with baffling needs) may, on some far distant stage, play well to an audience, but the production insists on putting in all the stops, so that the pace of the conversation and the play itself drag like a frozen corpse. The only cast member really able to breath life into the stilted style is James, who takes Grace’s surety of what she saw that night and twists it into something more and more unnerving. The sinister edge of the evening, lacking from Jet Black Chevrolet (which at least is much more cohesive in its creepiness), is enhanced by ice-and-electric-guitar soundscape of Stephen Gawrit.
The greatest pit fall of We Three is, as the sheriff (Andy Luther) puts it, “people like an explanation” and it refuses to give us one. The explanation is not necessarily for mystery itself but for character, motivation and circumstance; without which we are lost. So what was supposed to be an evening of subtle spine chilling, turns out to be a pair of hammer horrors: blunt instruments incapable of finesse, that often do no more that and strike their wielder’s thumbs.
Jet Black Chevrolet: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:00 Sundays at 5:00
We Three: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday at 7:30, Saturday at 5:00.
The Side Project Theatre 1439. W. Jarvis St.
Tickets: $20 general admission ($3 off with code “chevy” for JBC and “believe” for W3”) $15 Senior/student, $10 Rogers Park Rush.
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