Portrait of psychic abuse in 'Beaten'; drinks with a twist at Annoyance


Agoraphobia is on the verge of becoming the latest theatrical metaphor for broken psyches. Samuel D. Hunter's "The Whale," seen this year at Victory Gardens, provided a heartbreaking portrait of a grieving man grown morbidly obese in his housebound isolation, and Kim Rosenstock's "Tigers Be Still," produced last year by Theater Wit, featured a never-seen mother who won't leave her bedroom.

In Scott Woldman's "Beaten," now in a superbly acted world premiere at The Artistic Home under Katherine Swan's direction, the reason for law school dropout Chloe's inability to get out of the house seems straightforward enough: She suffered through months of physical rehab after her ex, Jason, pushed her down a flight of stairs. But conditions on the homefront are hardly conducive to the healing process.

Grandma Eileen (Kathy Scambiatterra) gives Violet Weston from "August: Osage County" a run for her money in the boozy-and-drug-addled recriminations department. Madelynne (Kristin Collins), Chloe's wound-tighter-than-a-tourniquet mother, seethes with resentment at her own dashed dreams and pushes Chloe (Kathryn Acosta) to give up-and-coming corporate attorney Jason (Joe Wiens) another chance. The only person who seems to have Chloe's back is Greg (Conor McCahill), a nerdy stock boy at a comics store desperate to be more than just a friend to Chloe.

Just how desperate Greg is becomes apparent as the story unfolds. McCahill's insinuating, untrustworthy narrator has a few too many self-conscious interludes larded with pop-cultural references. But Woldman's twists on the "women don't want nice guys" trope allow for a decidedly more nuanced portrait of abuse and lies than, say, a Lifetime television movie.

There is also a rich vein of gallows humor running through "Beaten," much of it courtesy of Scambiatterra's show-stealing, but grounded, turn as Eileen. Recounting her own history with an abusive man, Scambiatterra's pothead granny tells Chloe, "They don't call it a curse anymore. They call it a cycle. Makes it easier to believe in it."

The weak link here is Chloe, despite Acosta's hugely sympathetic portrayal. As written by Woldman, she remains more a blank canvas upon which everyone else projects their own histories and future visions than a fully rounded woman with a troubled past. But, then again, that, too, is a form of psychic abuse that leaves deep scars on the heart.

Through Aug. 11, The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Ave.; $28-$32 at 866-811-4111 or theartistichome.org


Annoyance offers a drinking game with pretty stellar results in "Hitch-Cocktails," a late-night Friday offering directed by Stephanie McCullough Vlcek. The premise is that the cast will enact a full-length improvised Hitchcockian thriller while drinking copious amounts of booze. The rule is that, if offered a drink in a scene, a performer must accept and finish by the end of the scene. A member of the audience is invited to taste test from the onstage pitchers of "brown" and "clear" to make sure no watered-down shenanigans are afoot. The audience is also invited to play along following take-a-drink rules posted in the theater. Those on tap include "someone makes a pun," "a woman screams," and "a gunshot."

On the night I attended, the kickoff audience suggestion for an uncommon fear was "toenail clippings." This led into a convoluted story about a 1960 beauty salon in Louisiana, whose owners, played as guileless damsels-in-distress by Brit Belsheim and Mel Evans, were roped into a money-laundering scheme investigated by Caleb George's underachieving private eye.

Rather than deliberately aping characters and scenarios from Hitchcock thrillers, Vlcek's nimble cast dove into the narrative with stylized aplomb, tying in earlier nuggets of information and leaving no MacGuffin unturned.

When the largest portion of a drink ended up on his shirt, C.J. Tuor as the cowboy-hatted and Euclidean-geometry-spouting rival detective declared, "I take a lot of night classes, but drinkin' ain't one of 'em." But the focus and commitment in the "Hitch-Cocktails" cast suggest that this crew could pass any bar exam and still deliver the sly and high-spirited goods.

Through Aug. 23, The Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway; $15 at 773-561-4665 or annoyanceproductions.com

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