Chicago Theatre Review
If You Build A Better Mousetrap
Ideation – Jackalope Theater
At one point in Aaron Loeb’s sharp, dark comedy Ideation, a character blasts his daughter’s favorite song “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana, to cover over some sculduggery. It’s a wickedly funny scene but doubly so when you consider how far these four will go, for loyalty, for the perseverance of their jobs, their comforts and their lives. It is this rabbit hole of silliness and sister intention we find ourselves falling down, towards a wonderland of conspiracy, moral consequence, and whiteboards. And whiteboards have never been so fun.
Given a top secret assignment from the powers that be, Hannah (Rachel Sullivan), a senior administrator of a high powered firm known for efficient and unorthodox solutions, summons her team of best troubleshooters Brock (Japhet Balaban), Ted (Michael Kingston) and Sandeep (Kaiser Taki Ahmed) to hammer out some preliminary ideas for the disturbing but purely hypothetical situation, to be delivered to the CEO in 90 minutes. However, they find themselves grasping with the moral implications of their actions when the pool of what they don’t know about the project deepens and darkens, and the hypocritical application of their design grows less and less hypothetical.
Set under the oily fluorescents of Slick Jorgensen’s design (whose subliminal, and then not-so -subliminal, flickers serve as barometers for the sinister intent brewing onstage and off) Loeb’s crisp little thriller (a genera sadly underdeveloped in the theater scene) percolates and fills our noses with the smell of fresh brewed fear.
The power-plays, obediences and affections of the little collection of idea-merchants are stretched and thrummed, as these relationships are tested and theories of how much danger threatens them are brought to scale. Loeb’s doesn’t quite get a handle on the personal paranoia until quite late in his story, but these rather thin moments are swept aside with the relentless and inexplicably satisfying returns to facts and theories.
It’s as succinct a element there is of a show with such drive and wit. In a thrilling inter-textual choreography by director Gus Menary we are allowed airless seconds in the rush of information, arguments, and recriminations to think about our own theories and coordinate with the characters so the bottoms can drop out of our stomaches at the same time.
It’s a shame that same control hasn’t been brought to bear on the plays blocking, which trapped in a hard little conference room, reminds one of rats in a cage. The actors too, at least at the start of the play, either under-project or over-shout, making it difficult to keep up with the story (with the exception of Ahmed, whose voice remains clear as a bell and gives us both equable charm and a mounting sense of anxiety). But by the end all these failures have been swept behind for a chilling summation of all fears, where the play and production nail it’s comedic and sinister designs.
by Ben Kemper
Jackalope Theater at Broadway Armory Park 5917 N Broadway St. (just off Thorndale Redline).
Thursdays through Saturday at 7:30, Sunday Matinees at 3:00.
No shows: on 5/19—21st, and 6/3
Extra shows: Wednesday 5/17, Monday, 5/22, Sunday 6/4, Sunday 6/11, and Monday 6/12 all at 7:30
Tickets $5-$25 at Jackalopetheater.org
For more information on this and other productions visit TheaterinChicago.com