Playwright: Benjamin Brownson. At: Broken Nose Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336 or www.brokennosetheatre.com; $15-$25. Runs through: April 21
Broken Nose Theatre artistic director Benjamin Brownson aims to show that backstage romances and relationships can be just as dynamic as those presented onstage in his world premiere comic drama Beautiful Broken, now playing at the Greenhouse Theater Center. And for the most part Brownson succeeds in making a delicate and often funny show, though some details raise plausibility questions here and there.
Set against Chicago's storefront theater scene, Beautiful Broken mainly focuses two relationships that develop between actors and front-of-house staff. In the main dramatic relationship, there's the introspective and more dramatic pairing of the actor Paul (Bradford R. Lund) and Bridgette (Leslie Ruettiger). Bridgette is helping out her house manager friend, Julie (Catherine Bullard), who is secretly and we soon learn reciprocally obsessed with the actor Matt (Michael Bullaro) in the secondary, more comic relationship.
Adding comic support is the theater geek actor Alex (Spenser Davis, who wears a number of musical-theater T-shirts) and the no-nonsense stage manager Sarah Martin (Neala Barron), whose repeated two-name moniker is a running gag that never gets fully explained.
The meeting of Bridgette and Paul is one of like minds and attraction, though their relationship is tested by personal family tragedies and bitter resentments. Paul is still mourning the death of his Hollywood actor brother, David Rockwell, while Bridgette is a firm teetotaler because her father's alcoholism proved to be so destructive to her family.
Brownson's dialogue is a lot of fun, particularly when he shows the women and men simultaneously evaluating their relationships at different locales. He also makes much of the theater "ghost light" both symbolically and dramatically.
Director Thomas Murray makes clever use of the Greenhouse Upstairs Mainstage space by utilizing both the stage and one seating area to show the divide between onstage and offstage realities. Murray also coaxes strong performances from the cast.
But the details of Beautiful Broken are often questionable. Just what Chicago storefront theater does three Shakespeare plays in a row with the same company of repertory actors? And how could Paul's brother become such a big Hollywood sensation with multiple film credits in such a short amount of time?
I also found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop to reveal why Bridgette has such a deep-seated dislike for her father. Her initial explanation stands, though a darker secret could have added more weight to the drama.
All in all, Beautiful Broken is a nice, tender play with light comic moments. Yet there are times you feel that it could have gone into darker, more dramatic territory to create bigger risks and conflicts for the people tied to the duality of performing and presenting live theater in Chicago.