Chicago Theatre Review
An Evening Alone with Your Thoughts
The Side Project Theatre Company presents Request Concert
At the Side Project Theatre in Roger’s Park is a show where the front of house staff starts off by telling you there will be no curtain call. The small black box theatre where you will see Request Concert efficiently uses all of the space it has, filling it with what looks like a studio apartment. The show begins without much warning as the audience lights dim and a woman enters the space. She feels very familiar, coming in from the cold Chicago winter and settling into her small home wearily after a long day. The entire play consists of this spinster, Ms. Rasch, going about her evening routine. The production is part of Side Project Theatre Company’s attempt to explore urban loneliness in conjunction with another play by the same writer entitled Through the Leaves. While at first watcingh a 40-something woman eat her dinner, wash dishes, and listen to the radio is a little difficult for a 21st century fast-paced audience to adjust to, by the end you really fell like you know Ms. Rasch, perhaps better than she knows herself.
Admittedly, this show may not be for everyone. It is a very intimate venture into a very lonely and sad woman’s life. It is also a wordless play, so it sometimes takes a bit of concentration not to let your mind wander. However, even when it does, that only makes you reflect more on how small and far between the joys in Ms. Rasch’s life are. Suddenly the act of treating yourself to cookies after dinner becomes a very special ritual. Meg Elliott, who plays Ms. Rasch, looks perhaps a little young for the role, but is very subtle and skilled in her portrayal of the character. From smoking a cigarette to folding a napkin, Elliott puts great care and meaning into every little action on stage. It is easy to sympathize with her character.
All of the elements of this production are very subtle. In the background, I thought I could hear the sound of cars and traffic. If the theatre wasn’t in quiet Roger’s Park, I would have just assumed it was the sound of Chicago. That environmental design and the compilation of songs playing on the radio’s “Request Concert Hour” were designed by Stephen Gawrit. The very livable and tiny studio apartment set was designed by Carolyn Voss, who even added running water to the set design. It’s funny how the continual drip of a real faucet can add to the ambiance of the moment. The entire production, much like Ms. Rasch herself, come together to form a very neat and tidy package.
Request Concert is certainly not like every play you are going to see in Chicago. It definitely feels like the production of a storefront theatre company, but is surprising in the risks Side Project Theatre Company chooses to take. However, even though the style of the production is inventive, the ending feels a little predictable. Essentially the message becomes: people who live alone in cities are lonely. It would be interesting to see a counter to this production, where a single woman living alone finds ways to make her life meaningful. There is certainly a truth and sadness to Request Concert, but perhaps there could be a brighter side to the urban lifestyle.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Presented January 22-February 2 by The Side Project Theatre Company, 1439 West Jarvis Ave, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773.340.0140 or by visiting their website www.thesideproject.net.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.