Chicago Theatre Review
Drones in the Night
Push Button Murder – Side Project
Battling boredom and fatigue with video games and trivia challenges, Becky and Roy are two Air Force drone pilots chained to their computer screens for long hours at a time. Nestled in an underground bunker somewhere in Ohio, they anonymously surveil suspicious activities all over the world. Then, when directed by their unseen commanders, they inflict death upon their unsuspecting victims with an apathetic touch of a button. The two pilots have become so complacent with killing that their dull routine, peppered with unexpected volatile outbursts, has sparked concern from their higher-ups. Following the suicide of their predecessor, the military sends psychologist Preston (Andrew Bailes in a finely controlled performance) into their world to observe Becky and Roy’s behavior to determine if either of them is at risk.
Alternating with this plot is the story of Mike and Stacy, two recently laid-off high school teachers who are angry at an establishment that doesn’t value quality education. Stacy’s become outraged by the passivity of her students who no longer seem capable of thinking for themselves. When she goads them into questioning Stacy ends up losing her job. However Heather, one of her pupils, has been living a dangerous, secret life which she eventually shares with the former teachers. While this storyline feels less immediate and fleshed out than Becky and Roy’s story, the final scene unites all of them.
In Steve Spencer’s world premier, contemporary politics and morals are exposed and challenged. Director Ronan Marra keeps the pacing taut, staging his production on Ashley Ann Woods’ sparse set within a space that’s not much larger than the theatre’s lobby. Audiences, sitting inches away from the playing area on either side, will feel totally immersed in both stories.
The six-member cast turn in fine performances, with Meredith Rae Lyons and Derek Garza as standouts in the showier roles of Becky and Roy. Ms. Lyons, who resembles a young Ally Sheedy, does an excellent job of harboring her character’s festering tension and anguish, built-up over months as a soldier in active combat. Sequestered beneath the earth in this hidden bunker, she’s a ticking time bomb primed to explode. Both Ms. Lyons and Mr. Garza, so excellent in Side Project’s recent “Mike & Seth,” each personify the pent-up anxiety induced by the pressure and claustrophobia of their jobs. Garza handles Roy’s manic, profanity-laced explosions and agitated flip-flopping between topics with masterful enthusiasm. His exuberance is a great match for Ms. Lyons‘ seething anger.
As drones become a familiar, ever-present component of our country’s war on terror, Steve J. Spencer’s long one-act offers a frightening, honest look at what may really be going on below the surface and the long-term effects on our unsung warrior heroes. Their disconnect to humanity and what is actually occuring each time these pilots press that button is horrifying, yet there’s an added element of empathy for their situation, as well. But for the unsuspecting, sometimes innocent victims of these drone attacks it’s a direct look into the face of terror.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 8-February 8 by the Side Project Theatre Company, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-340-0140 or by going to www.thesideproject.net.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.