By: Ken Prestininzi. At: Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave. Tickets: 773-384-0494; $20 ( two-for-one Thursdays ). Runs through: Feb. 14>
Trap Door Theatre's mission of producing obscure and unusual work is as resolute as ever in Cookie Play, the fourth collaboration between playwright Ken Prestininzi and director Kate Hendrickson to be housed in Bucktown's esteemed theatrical hole-in-the-wall. A work of deep political perspective, far-flung notions, intimate familial relationships and the occasional rap, Cookie Play uses an array of tones to create a largely dissonant yet altogether intriguing production.
The play centers on the Harriet and Jim Penini ( ensemble members Lyndsay Rose Kane and Chris Popio ), a God-loving Michigan family who are paid a visit by two government agents named Frank ( Mike Steele and Carl Wisniewski ). The Franks are looking for information about Tommy Penini ( Gage Wallace ), their son, who possesses valuable government secrets. Turns out they have him, and Harriet and Jimin the name of patriotism and familyagree to have their home turned into a black site where Tommy can be interrogated.
Cookie Play sports shades of a twisted thriller, a black comedy and a surrealist poem. It is wrapped in enthralling suspense, engaged in an ideological debate and afloat in a sea of imagined sequences and metaphors, often in rapid succession. Prestininzi and Hendrickson play loosely with genre in a deliberate way, keeping the audience from ever getting comfortable with their own concept of what the play is or isn't.
And as you might've guessed, it's also about cookies. Harriet's penchant for avoiding conflict by profusely offering the Franks baked goods creates a common ground for the characters and the ideologies at odds in the play. Cookie offering, refusing, nibbling and even crushing also provides a needed physicality for a play that often gets tripped up in its ideas as well as its multiple personalities.
To their credit, the cast willfully goes with the play as it zigs and zags through realism and dream, humor and rage and other sorts of contrarieties. They possess a strong determination to create characters that can believably exist in all these dramatic planes. Although they alone cannot create harmony from these wildly different tones, when Cookie Play does strike insightfully or provocatively, it's usually because a moment in their performance worked as a successful conduit from Prestininzi to the audience. Steele and Wisniewski get the fun, unpredictable and provocative stage time as Franks 1 and 2, while Harriet serves as the heartthe embodiment of the moral dilemma.
Cookie Play force-feeds its audience an endless stream of satire and commentary on American values, chiefly responsibility to family versus country, though that notion constitutes only a small portion. With an equally diverse set of styles communicating these themes, Cookie Play gets overly complicated and confusing, though in fairness, its best moments are usually chaos-induced.
So, plainly speaking, the more one finds moments of connection with what Prestininzi is trying to say, the more astute the play will seem. Everyone's bound to reach a different degree of understanding, but with the exception of viewers who are gluten-intolerant, just about everyone who leaves Trap Door Theatre after this play is bound to want a cookieor four.