Playwright: Sheila Callaghan. At: Dog & Pony Theatre Company at Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter. Tickets: 312-491-1369; www.dogandponychicago.org; $20 . Runs through: June 4
The rabbits are nasty in Knickerbocker country. Due to a rare bacterium borne by bunnies in the Hudson River Valley, it's death to humans merely to touch one. When shock artist Trevor Pratt starts collecting roadkill rabbits for her next big thing, the Feds want to know if she's a bio-terrorist. They send in a one-eyed FBI guy who harbors his own never-explained mysteries and steps over the line in pursuit of evidence.
Dog & Pony has rolled out a marvelous physical production for this contemplation onwhat?violence or violent images or terrorism or big-brotherism or radical art or fame or marital infidelity (both Trevor and her husband cheat). A true object d'art, the show incorporates a sculptural set (Judy Radovsky and Anders Jacobson), video imagery (Ben Kolak), a sound scape (Stephen Ptacek) and puppets with glowing eyes (Dan Kerr-Hobert, Lizi Breit and Bernie McGovern). The audience is sculptural, too, lounging on cushions arranged on risers.
All of this makes Roadkill Confidential a striking and sometimes beautiful 90 minutes to observe, but the point of it becomes increasingly fuzzy as playwright Sheila Callaghan tries to weave together too many threads. The marital infidelity of Trevor and hubby William produces bunny victims but has no point in itself. The presence of William's 14-year-old son from his first marriage has no impact on the story. The secrets of FBI Man (as he's called) are never revealed, although he's the dominant character as both narrator and participant in the story. The inevitable meeting between FBI Man and Trevor has no pay-off in terms of character resolution, serving only to set up the unveiling of Trevor's latest masterpiece, an homage to The Little Shop of Horrors.
Callaghan is a witty enough playwright to make her characters often interesting in themselves, but not consistently with regard to each other. Her dialogue and situations are colorful, amusing and spicy. This is not a stupid play, but a collagein the literal sense of physical production and written textthat never completely comes together. To the degree that the production is successful, and it does have chops, it's a triumph of style over substance.
Director Devon de Mayo has guided his actors into sharply etched and bold characterizations, just a touch cartoonish in a good way. Heather Townsend channels Desperate Housewives as the next door neighbor, Andrew Goetten as the bounces off the walls as the teen, Dan Smith is appealingly shabby as Trevor's academic husband. In the lead roles, Lucy Carapetyan is an edgy and cagey Trevor and Sorin Brouwers is perfectly buttoned-up and overwrought as FBI Man.
Oddly, the fictional bunny disease has symptoms precisely like Lyme Disease, whish is real and rampant in the Hudson Valley.