4:41 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
I smell a niche at Theater Wit, the multispace venue just a few blocks from the bars and eateries of Wrigleyville: the date-night show. Not a bad idea, given the locale.
Itamar Moses' "Completeness," wherein a pair of brainy graduate students almost talk their own relationship into submission, is ending a run of several months on Saturday. Now, Theater Wit has a replacement in the very viable Stage Left Theatre production of Nina Raine's "Rabbit," wherein a bunch of attractive, overeducated young Brits in their late 20s sit around in a trendy bar and engage in the kind of juicy conversation that lands somewhere between group foreplay and mutually assured destruction.
These poor, cute, alienated creatures have found, alas, that lucrative postgraduate careers in the likes of law, finance, medicine and public relations have not, surprise of all surprises, rendered them happy nor made their relationships easy. And thus they thrust, parry, objectify and generally engage in the kind of hyperarticulate banter that can make an evening of theater highly engaging, and comes with the added benefit of making your own life seem a little less miserable.
The high-end chatter about whether women now objectify men more than vice versa, and of whether men are more discreet in the sack than women, is a very effective way for a play to talk about sex. That always sells a lot of tickets. But it's also what these kinds of characters think and talk about, so this is one shrewd piece of theatrical writing. There's even a little heart: The central character, Bella (Kate Black-Spence), obsesses about whether she should be hanging with her friends and drinking her birthday away or spending time with her dad who might die this very night and who shows up in little flashback-type visions here. Intruding on all the sex talk.
Bella does not get along with her father, and she ties herself in various emotional knots over a little dilemma that this drama, somewhat incredibly, takes in all seriousness. If you're over 30, I suspect it will be all you can do not to shout from your seat something along the lines of "put down the phone and the wine, you self-indulgent whiner, and go see your dad."
Still, the intensity with which one feels that sensation here is a kind of backward compliment to Raine and certainly to the director, Elly Green, whose casting here was deft and whose direction is fast-paced, exciting, unstinting and, well, a jolly good match for the piece.
"Rabbit," let us stipulate nonetheless, is a very young play. At times it feels like a "God of Carnage" for the childless, but that might be overstating Raine's satirical chops or even her intent. These characters — whose dilemmas and charms, it will be obvious, I resisted even as I admired their genesis — are seemingly oblivious to the larger problems of those who cannot afford to sniff at someone else's wine selection.
You might well find (depending, again, on your age) that they outlive their welcome, even though this is certainly the slickest and most commercial production I think I've ever seen during my long history of watching the work of the Stage Left Theatre Company. The performances from Sean Sinitski, Melanie Derleth, Nicholas Harazin, Dennis Grimes and Dana Black come with a delicious verbosity and, in the case of Black-Spence as the leading character and apparent authorial voice, just enough fragility that she engenders a bit of sympathy. Not a lot. A bit.
Raine, a rising name on the other side of the Atlantic, penned this piece in 2006. Four years later, she wrote "Tribes," a terrific, nuanced, sophisticated drama that will be seen next season at the Steppenwolf Theatre and that was a huge New York hit under the director David Cromer. "Rabbit" is not anywhere close to that. But Raine brings out the best in actors and directors, as you will see here, amid all the talk of bodies and money and aching privileged hearts.
When: Through May 26
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 at 773-975-8150 or stagelefttheatre.com
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC