Playwright: Adam Bock. At: Immediate Theatre at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont Ave. Phone: 800-838-3006; $18-$28. Runs through: Dec. 18
Let My People Come
Score: Earl Wilson, Jr.; Script: Wilson and the ensemble. At: Street Tempo Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Phone: 773-327-5252; $28. Runs through: Dec. 31
Gay and straight characters dealing with religiosity, relationships and real estate crowd Adam Bock's 2002 drama Five Flights, now having a Chicago premiere by the resurrected Immediate Theatre. Just up the street, the new Street Tempo Theatre features gay and straight actors singing and dancing about many aspects of sex in an updated revival of the notorious 1974 off-Broadway musical revue Let My People Come (which has nothing whatsoever to do with Moses).
While Five Flights touches upon what might happen if a kookily charismatic woman decides to found a new religion based upon the spirituality of birds, Let My People Come celebrates a sex-positive gospel of free love. Just how effective both shows go about preaching their messages is up to debate.
Rather than fully fleshed people, Bock's characters in Five Flights come off as mouthpieces to philosophies for and against religion and relationships. The way that Bock structures his drama is also more to benefit the mind than the heart, denying audiences the expected romantic couplings that he hints may happen early on (particularly between the emotionally cryptic Ed of Nick Freed and the ballet-loving professional hockey player Tom played by Chris Carr).
If Five Flights' script ultimately disappoints, you can at least admire many of the efforts of the cast and crew of Immediate Theatre to illuminate Bock's distancing drama. Scenic designer Stephen Carmody creates a sturdy framework to showcase projections designer Michael Fernandez's sophisticated computer animation of flying flocks of birds.
Director Peter Cieply has also assembled an attractive and game cast. True, they don't always succeed at garnering huge laughs from Bock's many character quirks (John Victor Allen's self-professed Lithuanian hockey player Andre comes off best). But the ensemble is working with material in Five Flights that isn't the most audience-friendly.
As for the material of Let My People Come, Earl Wilson, Jr.'s songs are certainly peppy enough nowadays to come off as an X-rated episode of Glee. The largely young and fresh-faced ensemble gathered by director Brian Posen definitely perform well (mostly un-amplified) and really seem to enjoy the material.
Yet there is a creeping conservatism in this production, what with a proud virgin in the cast getting a monologue that doesn't jibe with the rest of the show's "hooray for sex" vibe. Also, one guesses that previous productions would have had much more nudity. (Perhaps the ensemble will be more comfortable fully disrobing as the run continues.)
However, one noticeable fact about both shows is how being gay or lesbian is just a matter of life and (mostly) acceptance. While Let My People Come trumpets that fact in physical song and dance, Five Flights soberly shows how happiness in gay relationships can also be elusive.