If You Split a Second
Playwright: Dana Lynn Formby. At: Pegasus Players at Leo Lerner Theater, 4520 N. Beacon St. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.pegasusplayers.org; $15-$25. Runs through: June 2
Just Another Love Story: ... Romeo and Juliet
Playwright: William Shakespeare, adapted by Zarinah Ali. At: Realize Theatre Group and Earth Pearl Collective at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: justanotherlovestory.bpt.me or www.realizetheatregroup.com; $20. Runs through: May 25
Unconvincingly delayed messages lead to tragic ends in two current Chicago productions: Dana Lynn Formby's world premiere drama If You Split a Second for Pegasus Players and Zarinah Ali's unwieldy-titled Just Another Love Story: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (an updated lesbian adaptation of Shakespeare's most famous romantic tragedy for Realize Theatre Group in collaboration with Earth Pearl Collective).
Unfortunately, major flaws in style and logic mar both scripts. But at least one production largely keeps you gripped to the unfolding plot, while the other prompts laughter at the unintentional absurdity of the archaic and modern mix of dialogue and situations.
Formby's If You Split… shows the tragic consequences of a moment of murderous rage and how that unleashes a cycle of violence and deception upon an extended and damaged Wyoming family. It's a full-blown soap opera: The heavily-tattooed dad Mick Johnson is in jail for murder. Mick's wife, Jane, rushes into an unsatisfying marriage with Mick's lawyer brother, Patrick. Mick's estranged teenage daughter, Geneva, rebels in dangerously sexual ways. (There's also some anti-gay bullying of Mick's musician son, David, but he's kept entirely off-stage.)
I'm not sure if it was Formby or director Ilesa Duncan's stylistic decision to have the very capable Dylan McGorty and Stephanie Chavara play all the characters. On one hand, it's a way to show off the chameleon character skills of the performers and to symbolically show the interconnectedness of the family members. But it also feels like a cost-cutting measure and it can be confusing when some costume transitions aren't crystal-clear.
But a major unconvincing trait about Formby's script is the constant character philosophizing on time intricacies and atom bombs. These thoughts are so articulate that they don't match Formby's lower-class characterizations. The delayed message at the end also feels very cloying as a plot device.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet also has a crucial delayed message that leads to tragedy. But what's most lamentable about Ali's Just Another Love Story is her overall clueless approach to modernizing the Bard's text and her listless direction.
Ali's decision to mix Shakespeare's text with profanity and current slang (including a reference to global warming) is frequently laughable and inelegant. And if you're going to revise a Shakespeare play to speak to modern-day Chicago problems like homophobia and bullying, a radical reinvention like West Side Story makes much more sense (particularly when Ali has Romeo banished to Barrington, of all places, for Tybalt's murder).
By the time Lord Capulet says revised Shakespearean lines like, "Oh disobedient dyke!" or "Oh fuck! My daughter is dead!" toward the end of Just Another Love Story, the play degrades into an exercise in holding back inappropriate giggles.