Chicago Theatre Review
A Hundred Minutes of Confusion
Whatever – The Side Project
Robert Tenges is a well-known, Chicago-based playwright. His works have been produced, not only by the side project theatre company, but all over the city. He’s even seen his plays mounted Off-Broadway. He’s been honored with a Jeff nomination for Best New Work, and he’s written several English adaptions of plays by Chekhov and Buchner. Tenges has even written an original musical for children, commissioned by the Old Town School of Music, so the man knows his stuff. His latest work, however, is disappointing. Instead of focusing his play on one character and/or plot, this story rambles all over the place, trying to cover far too many subjects. The problem is the audience isn’t given enough information or background about any one topic to grab a foothold. We get fragments of scenes or phone conversations that are seemingly already in progress. As a result, it becomes difficult to know precisely what’s really happening to anyone. Much of this play is sparked by what Mr. Tenges has written, but it’s up to the playgoer to connect the dots. This new play is…whatever…
Trying to share what this play is about is confusing and frustrating. There are storylines about abortion, gun control, statutory rape, teenage pregnancy, abortion, anger management, emotional and mental disorders, parenting and divorce, life-threatening diseases, teen relationships with peers, parents and instructors. There’s even the beginnings of a plot dealing with spousal abuse or ill treatment by a date or longterm romantic partner. The difficulty is that there are too many story starters, but none of these topics is thoroughly developed. Viewing this 100 minute one-act is akin to sitting down to a smorgasbord of dramatic possibilities, but being allowed to merely sample each of them.
It also must be said that all of the characters in this play are, to some extent, rather unlikable. Theatergoers would be hard pressed to name one of the seven characters with whom they’d enjoy spending any length of time. There are, however, some fine performances in this production. Rachel, the most likable, relatable character, is played by talented Kristen D’Aurelio. The actress keeps her character natural, totally honest in her portrayal and always audible. Ms. D’Aurelio also fully understands how to effectively make this intimate theatre space her own. The one flaw in the character is her poor judgment in men. She never fully explains, but drops hints about the poor relationships with the scumbags she’s dated. It makes one question whether this pattern of associating with losers is deliberate or merely a coincidence. But Rachel comes off as the play’s protagonist, yet she isn’t given any more stage time than the other characters; and while she seems to be the drama’s one saving grace, it’s not clear how her story will be resolved.
As Declan, Columbia College student Aaron Lockman shows a good deal of promise playing one of most unlikable characters in this play. A young man with emotional problems resulting in anger issues, who’s become heavily medicated and verbally abusive to Ivy, his divorced mother (nicely played by Shawna Tucker), Mr. Lockman fights against every stereotype to make this teenager as realistic as possible. Grace Melon also offers some good moments as Chloe, Declan’s foulmouthed teenage girlfriend who, after a two-year affair with Scott (Bryan Breau), one of her school teachers, finds she’s pregnant with his child and wants an abortion. The problem, once again, is that the actress is given too many stories to tell but not enough good material with which to create more than a caricature, despite all Ms. Melon’s best efforts.
Plays that try to cover a wide spectrum of subjects end up glossing over everything and shedding light on nothing. Robert Tenges’ latest play badly needs some rewrites if it’s going to rank up there with his past, highly-praised dramas. There’s too much going on, but not enough stage time is given to any one plot. There’s nary a likable character to be found and, as staged by Adam Webster, the show plods along too slowly. Each scene has the same tempo and feels the same length. Every scene ends in a blackout, followed by a long scene change performed in half-light. The production turns into a play about moving furniture rather than…well, whatever…
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 9-August 9 by The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 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.