Chicago Theatre Review
Red Orchid’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr” Simply Top-Notch
A play of startling empathy and precision, Grant James Varjas’ “Accidentally Like a Martyr” has received a pitch-perfect staging at A Red Orchid Theatre, one that I would urge all fans of Chicago theater to see.
Through a taut 80 minutes, “Martyr” follows the sad, lonely men who frequent a shabby gay bar in New York during the Christmas season, and how their interactions in the present day summon the painful memories of an infamous death that took place at the bar four years before.
The first thing that strikes you about Red Orchid’s production of “Martyr” is its set, which outdoes even Red Orchid’s exceptional standards. Simply, John Holt, the production’s set designer, recreates the interior of an urban bar so effectively that if one were led blindfolded into the stage, they would truly believe they were inside of a bar. From the paper signs plastered on the wall proclaiming “Cash Only,” to the boxes of beer stacked beneath the countertops, to the antiquated jukebox and disco ball off the corner, the set of “Martyr” is authentic par excellence, and such authenticity makes it remarkably easy to slip into the play’s rhythms and narrative thrust.
But even the best designed plays can’t function without a great cast (think the tragedy that was Steppenwolf’s abysmal “The Qualms”), and director Shade Murray, also responsible for such works as Red Orchid’s wonderfully bizarre “Trevor,” proves his hand yet again in eliciting remarkably nuanced, honest performances from his cast. I was particularly struck by a tandem of actors: Troy West, who was an original cast member of “August: Osage County” and brings incredible depth and humanity to his role; Layne Manzer, who is heartbreaking in his role as a desperately lonely, drug-addled security guard; and Doug Vickers, who just might be – based on his role here as an acid-tongued patron of the bar and in Red Orchid’s “Simpatico” from 2013 – one the most deliciously eloquent actors on a Chicago stage.
In short, I cannot say enough good things about Red Orchid’s “Martyr,” other than to reiterate that it should be seen – and perhaps re-seen.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented Jan. 15 – March 1 by A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610
Tickets are available by calling 312-943-8722 or by visiting http://www.aredorchidtheatre.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.