Chicago Theatre Review
Absurdity in Fraternity Row
The Bachelors – Cole Theatre
Caroline V. McGraw has created a world that may, at first, appear vaguely familiar to some of her audience. Three post-college guys are living in the kind of eternal squalor we usually associate with undergrads who are finally out from under the thumb of their parents. Cheap furniture and goofy posters decorate the house. Mounds of beer cans and empty snack wrappers are strewn everywhere and, as the lights gradually come up, we see a young, shirtless man lying face down on the floor.
After some unintelligible rambling, the audience learns that this is Kevlar (or Kevin) and he’s drunk or drugged beyond comprehension. Laurie (or Lawrence) unexpectedly returns home early from a business trip to Las Vegas to find his roommate babbling incoherently about his longtime girlfriend. We learn that Danielle has just left him. Kevlar, through broken bursts of conversation, explains that his girl just found out that she has ovarian cancer and has decided to live the last months of her life enjoying as many men as possible. All of this news has left Kevlar in a serious, inebriated depression. As Laurie attempts to help his friend, while restoring some kind of order to their messy living room, Henry, their third roommate, finally graces them with his drunken presence. There’s another frat party, a 60’s themed event, raucously taking place just outside their door. Henry refuses to be brought down by his roommates’ problems (Laurie is harboring his own mysterious, tragic news); instead, he wants his bros to join him in tracking down hot babes and taking advantage of them.
As this play languishes through 75 blundering minutes of painful, poetic monologues, demented drunken dialogue and one knock-down-drag-out fight, the playwright venomously portrays men as the pigs she feels they truly are. In this respect, Ms. McGraw writes like a female Neil LaBute. None of her characters view women as people, but merely as sexual objects. According to these guys, women only populate the earth for the sole purpose of providing pleasure and to cure loneliness for men. McGraw’s trio of dudes, at 30-something, are each stagnating in adolescence while experiencing some difficult personal problems. The men are still rooming together in a fraternity house, even though their college years are far behind them. Each is an employed adult but they behave like entitled, spoiled children.
What makes this play so unique, yet frustrating, is its surreal tone. There are absurd moments that resemble scenes from Edward Albee’s earlier works. Strange sounds are heard, doors suddenly fly open without anyone being behind them. Events seem awfully farfetched and no one actually talks like these three guys. The cast, however, is very good. Shane Kenyon evokes the most empathy as the seemingly nicer guy, Laurie. His concern for and devotion to his friends is commendable, particularly when we learn what he’s just experienced on his business trip. Boyd Harris is irritatingly flippant and smug as Henry, the roommate who works as a cellular biologist by day, but by night he’s a fierce, unbridled party animal. Nicolas Bailey has the most difficult role as the eternally inebriated Kevlar. He sometimes overplays the drunk, drugged-out quality, making his character a little unbelievable. But then, very little in this play is plausible. Erica Weiss’ stages her production wisely, using Grant Sabin’s realistic scenic design to its full vantage. The pacing could use a shot of adrenaline at times; as it now plays, everything seems to be all on one level. But the director has drawn some very solid characterizations out of her three actors, particularly Shane Kenyon.
Caroline V. McGraw’s strange one-act is both vicious and poetic. She creates three, post-college friends, a trio of swine-like man-child characters who, in many ways, are hopelessly stuck in their teenage years. In an absurd, almost Twilight Zone scenario, events are discovered, confessions are made and three young men are forever changed, but not necessarily for the better. At the end of the night, as the confidence of these young men wither, something far uglier has begun to grow.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 17-April 10 by Cole Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 227 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to www.coletheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.