You could argue the live-lit scene, which has seen explosive growth in Chicago these past couple of years, is the inevitable lo-fi pushback to our hyperdigitalized age. Amid all those glowing screens and social networks, surely we crave something simpler: A person, in the flesh, just standing there, telling a story.
Plays in monologue form live in a more heightened corner of this universe, requiring not just a high quality of writing but a level of performance that demands multitudes from actors, not the least of which is an insane amount of memorization. The demands on an audience are also significant. This is theater that actively makes you work for your night's entertainment. Passively listening won't cut it. Your imagination has to be engaged for the story to work, busily filling in the blanks with mental pictures. The experience is akin to reading. Intimate. Potent. Memorable.
The verbal landscapes that unfurl in "Terminus," from Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe (in a vivid production directed by Jeffry Stanton for Interrobang Theatre), are at once brutal and funny, appalling and lyrical.
A man and two women share a raked stage made of steel mesh, lit from beneath as though the trio were standing atop a subway grate about to tumble into the abyss. There is a mad loneliness at work here, of emotional failures and self-sabotage. Of a blowzy middle-aged woman trying to do the right thing and instead meeting the business-end of a fist. Of a killer who is a wannabe singer who sells his soul to the devil. Of a young woman who nearly falls to her death as she backs away from an unwanted sex act. The three never interact, and yet their fates are horribly, strangely, wonderfully interlocked.
The thing about monologues is they make loquacious narrators of even the most taciturn of characters, such as Kevin Barry Crowley's bifurcated psychopath (who takes both human and demon form, the latter of which, we're told, is comprised of thousands of writhing worms).
The script is wedded to a brisk, profane rhyming structure ("'Christ, she got me good,' I think as I clean my face of blood at the sink") that would be irritating if the performances weren't so insistently strong, particularly Christina Hall's do-gooder (she's terrific when imitating a rough, young gal her character confronts) and Michaela Petro's jaded singleton who finds herself unexpectedly and quite literally swept off her feet.
Through Oct. 6 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.; tickets are $25 at 773-935-6875 or athenaeumtheatre.org
"How to Lose Your Job and Alienate Friends"
This corporate satire from the Public House Theatre (which has permanently relocated in the old Live Bait space in Wrigleyville) is about halfway there. Tighter direction from Byron Hatfield (faster transitions, faster punch lines, just faster, period) would go a long way.
Written collectively by the Public House writers' room, the show adheres to a formulaic narrative structure that doesn't do it any favors. I would advise a "30 Rock" binge session for everyone involved, because "How to Lose Your Job" is mostly on the right track, but doesn't yet have the confidence to take its jokes to their logical, crazy-town conclusion. The cast is clearly game.
An unemployed dude (a likable Chris Blake as the straight man) is hired by a fast-talking slimeball and self-described "life embracer" (Matt Young in boisterous mode) who also employs a dour Russian assistant (Meredith Johnston) and a very pretty, very officious head of marketing (Sasha Kraichnan), the latter of whom becomes the new guy's love interest.
The orientation meeting is called the "Welcome to Your Future (and That of Your Children Probably) New Hire Orientation and Yoga Session." That's a good joke, as is everything here that puts the screws to corporate-speak. It's all the material around those bits that needs more work. Wouldn't hurt to incorporate more music to smooth over the blackouts between scenes, although hats off to the musical selections that were made: A triumvirate of songs consisting of the "Space Jam" theme, "Up Where We Belong" and that "Karate Kid" classic, "You're the Best."
Through Oct. 13 at the Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St.; tickets are $15 at pubhousetheatre.com
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