Chicago Theatre Review
You Deserve a Break Today
Mai Dang Lao – Sideshow Theatre Company
Based upon a real life incident at a Kentucky McDonalds that made the news back in 2004, David Jacobi’s 80-minute one-act play is a horrifying tale of Us versus Them. The actual incident was even more brutal and inhumane than Jacobi portrays it in his comic drama, but the horror of the event remains solid and controversial.
Sophie seems to simply be drifting through life. She’s a minimum wage Millennial working at a fast food restaurant that’s, although the name never appears in print anywhere on William Boles’ detailed, authentic-looking set, clearly a McDonalds. Like Mike, her co-worker, Sophie isn’t terribly invested in the food service industry. She stands sentry at her register, like a zombie, lifelessly spouting the words of welcome she’s been programed to say and carrying out the mundane duties she’s required to perform. Sophie dreams of quitting this boring job to study veterinary medicine at the local junior college.
Mike, a good-natured kid, who always seems to be half asleep or wasted, works at the takeout window, a position he’s halfheartedly held for quite a while. Like Sophie, he’s just dancing through life, working this menial job to earn some pocket money, until something better comes along. The more committed employee, Nancy, is almost maniacal and obsessive about her duties and, as an assistant manager-in-training, basks in the new attention and responsibility.
Events on this particular night suddenly take a dark turn. Roy, the restaurant’s longtime manager, and Kara, his by-the-book assistant manager, receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the police department. This anonymous detective accuses “someone” at the fast food joint of skimming money from the register. Because she’s the most rebellious employee, and since she’s given her two-week notice, Sophie becomes the natural suspect. The disembodied telephone voice commands Kara and Roy to interrogate Sophie mercilessly behind the office’s closed doors. Sophie’s not allowed to sit, told to stand in the corner and eventually strip searched. When Sophie asks if she can, at least, call her mother to be present, her request is denied. Roy, who has a penchant for hugging his employees, turns threatening to Sophie’s safety. The evening becomes bloody and out of control, involving Mike, Nancy and Kara in a most bizarre ending.
Director Marti Lyons’s production is well-staged and well-cast. Her ensemble is competent and committed to their roles. It’s the script and the pacing that, in this world premiere, feels a little wonky. There’s lots of humor and five truly eccentric characters to enjoy, but it’s unclear whether we’re suppose to take the story seriously. The sudden mood change doesn’t occur with enough immediacy. The intensity needed to make us truly feel the horror of this situation isn’t entirely present. With the absurdity of the situation, it almost feels like the audience is being let in on some kind of practical joke, and we keep waiting for a punch line that never occurs.
In addition to William Boles’ stylish scenic design, kudos to Mealah Heidenreich for her intricate, realistic properties and Jason Dundra for his fine poster illustration used throughout the setting. Matthew Chapman’s sound design is excellent and Sally Dolembo’s uniforms are most authentic.
All five actors are excellent in their unique roles. Sarah Price brings the most empathy to her portrayal of Sophie, although Tyler Meredith’s nerdy, needy Nancy could be the star of her own story. Andrew Goetten is natural and very likable as Mike. Lanisa Renee Frederick is strong and makes a great, take-charge ASM, Kara. As Roy, Matt Fletcher creates a fast food manager who continually struggles between being the captain of his establishment and wanting his employees to like him. When Roy’s pushed into a new position of authority he begins to question his chosen line of work.
This production needs a few adjustments for it to be the biting social drama that David Jacobi intended. Right now it feels like a Twilight Zone episode. It may be the script that needs some changes. It might be the director’s focus and pacing that doesn’t quite build logically toward the frightening climactic turn of events. The story is certainly riveting and the plot becomes unnerving. But, as it now plays, this production is just too strange and confusing, with an unexpected ending that feels almost tacked on.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 6-April 10 by Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens in the upstairs Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-871-3000 or by going to www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com