Playwright: David Eldridge. At: The Artistic Home ( fka Live Bait ) , 3914 N. Clark. Phone: 866-811-4111; $15. Runs through: May 17
If you find yourself thoroughly puzzled during the first 20 minutes of David Eldridge's play, you're not alone. This is a memory play, you see—a dramatic genre mandating mosaic narration subdivided into blackout-length sketches and bridged by a dizzying swirl of musical hooks and snippets, all of it requiring us not only to connect the dots, but to first rearrange them into a linear pattern. With patience, however, the vertigo gradually lessens to allow the pieces to come together.
When they do, we learn that our young working-class hero, Joey, has recently lost his beloved mother to cancer, and that, a mere three months later, his cab-driver father began dating the hospital nurse. These events plunge Joey into severe depression, leading him to alienate both his upper-class fiancée and his best buddy. His co-workers persuade him to volunteer as a tutor at a school in the East End slums. There Joey and an immigrant African student bond over their love of pop music—until the inevitable urban tragedy strikes.
We've heard this story before, of course—gruff dad, doting mum, nuclear-family dynamics making for oedipal dependence, and doesn't every teacher see himself as an almighty rescuer? But England is not the United States. In a society stratified along lines far more rigid than ours, the conflicts associated with fluctuations in the status quo generate unease and guilt beyond our imaginations. So it's no wonder that Joey retreats into fantasies cobbled out of a self-styled Shintoism, the myth of Marvin Gaye and a long-ago California vacation with his ex-intended, to the dismay of those around him.
But the inside of a troubled lad's head is rarely easy to navigate, even if Eldridge's script wasn't riddled in regional argot unfamiliar to Yankee ears. ( Joey's favorite expression is "You really take the piss out of me." ) What's important, however, is not whether we're with Joey every minute, but that the actors remain always cognizant of their chronicle's narrative arc. And under Tim Patrick Miller's direction, the cast assembled for this Artistic Home production—from Joe McCauley's introverted antisocial Joey to Eustace Allen's array of kindly, but ultimately ineffectual, clergymen—guides us through Eldridge's 90-minute maze like capable nannies, assuring us that no child will be left behind before we emerge, united in fresh consciousness of the small graces offering comfort in an uncertain universe.