Playwright: Evan Linder . At: The New Colony at Dank Haus, 4740 N. Western. Phone: 800-838-3006; $20. Runs through: April 4. Photo courtesy of The New Colony
College fraternity hazing ( both real and imagined ) has been the inspiration for a multitude of entertainment genres. TV movies of the week, gross-out film comedies and even gay porn have all fetishized the secretive initiation rituals of the Greek system.
So does Evan Linder's world-premiere play FRAT have anything really new to say that you don't already know ( or assume to know ) ? Probably not, but Linder's work carries a powerful ring of authenticity. ( He was a former officer in a fraternity himself. )
What makes FRAT fun is the unconventional way that The New Colony stages Linder's comic drama. FRAT plays in a recreation room at the Dank Haus, the Lincoln Square institution for German culture.
There, director Andrew Hobgood creates the atmosphere of a college keg party. Before the play begins, you're encouraged to drink beer, eat pizza and mingle with the cast of "college students."
During the play, you wander from scene to scene as if you're an eavesdropping college student. ( Watch out if you're sitting on a piece of furniture when a scene strikes up around you—you may be incorporated into the action. )
This movement makes you feel privy to the secret going-ons of the fraternity and the four pledges who endure a series of degradations to become a fraternity member. This notion of listening in gives an extra zing to Linder's fairly conventional play questioning the extremes of trying to fit in and showing the sometimes racist, sexist and class-consciousness of the fraternity members ( Linder does shake things up by starting the show in the middle and jumping back to the beginning. )
In addition to Hobgood's concept, FRAT's 18-member cast really does its part to keep the show entertaining. Though some actors aren't as "on" as they should be ( I noticed Gary Tiedemann marking time in between his lines as the thuggish Jerry ) , the majority do an amazing job of being in the moment.
When the comedy is called for, James Asmus, Josh Odor, Tara Sissom and Michael Gonring all consistently get laughs for their gross-out humor, spacey idiocy or sarcasm.
On the dramatic side, strong work comes from Quinn White and Henry Riggs as the co-pledges Todd and Ross. Nick Lake and Tony Kaehny also prove to be menacing with their flashes of anger.
Meg Johns and Thea Lux's respective takes on the loose girlfriends Sara Catherine and Natalie are so good that you wish more of the play was centered on them.
FRAT may not have too many new things to say about fraternities, but The New Colony's semi-environmental staging certainly makes it much more of happening show. And if you have a fraternity fetish, by all means go.