Playwright: Manny Tamayo. At: Factory Theatre at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111; www.thefactorytheatre.com; $20. Runs through: June 1
There is a branch of popular fiction less concerned with insights into social issues, or explorations in human psychology, than with generating suspense sufficient to conceal the huge gaps in plausibility required to bring the story to its conclusion. This can be done smartlyas exemplified in the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandleror clumsily, but the all-important factor is that we quickly become so riveted by anticipation of what happens next that we never pause to question the logic reflected in each individual disclosure.
This latest contribution to the genre opens in a subway car late at night, occupied by a sleeping homeless man, a Yuppie couple absorbed in Vogue magazine (her) and Smartphone (him), an off-duty bus driver who complains about the dangers associated with public transportationnotably, young delinquents on "wilding" spreesand a tradesman in coveralls who insists that things are not as bad as he claims. Minutes later, the train comes to a halt between stations, prompting a pair of drug-peddling hooligans to stroll in from the next car and proceed to harass the passengers. The tradesman objects to their behavior and is quickly knifed for his audacityand this is just the beginning.
We are willing to buy this premise, not simply because its setting is Chicago's Elnot New York City, as we'd expector its characters are the one-dimensional stereotypes of melodrama since its inception (our milieu could be a stagecoach in the Old West, a lifeboat on the Spanish Main or a downed airplane in a rural wasteland). What makes it compelling is that the cramped performance space, with audience seated only inches away, allows author Manny Tamayo to orchestrate his narrative over 65 minutes of swift reversals to divert the attention of even experienced CTA riders from such intrusive queries as "why don't they band together and overpower the thugs/open the emergency exit doors/call or text 911 with the phone?"
What is also required for this plan to succeed is a cast physically adept at close-up theatrical violence and uniformly intent on propelling the dramatic action ever-forward at a velocity permitting no reflection to dilute the emotional intensity. Fortunately, director Matt Engle's ensemble of tightly focused actorsin particular, newcomer LaQuin Groves, from whom we will see moreare capable of immersing us in their comic-book universe long enough to render this a thrilling live-performance alternative to the big-budget summer blockbusters.