Playwright: Leonard House
At: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: GreenhouseTheater.org; $22-$40. Runs through: June 2
Set in 1970s Chicago, and staunchly realistic, One for the Road has much to recommend in its structure, but little to keep it memorable in terms of dialogue and conflict. While MPAACT's production of debut playwright Leonard House's script explores issues near and dear to our city, the first-level nature of the script leaves little excitement or tension to be found for the audience.
Ray ( Darren Jones, working hard ) owns a South Side bar that he keeps up and running mostly through protection payments to a white Bridgeport gang. But lately gangs are infiltrating his neighborhood, and while regular Slocum ( Donn Carl Harper ) suggests addressing the problem through firearms, Ray is content to pour drinks and run his business as usual. Friend Lizzie ( Tina Marie Wright ) provides sympathetic and a potential future as a romantic partner, while Vietnam veteran Blood ( Omari Ferrell ) serves as bartender and surrogate son. A girl from the past ( Delysa Richards ) keeps showing up at the front door, and Ray must decide how he will best defend his turf.
Director Runako Jahl stages the action in this corner bar awkwardly. By placing the backdoor at the front of the stage, he blocks a chunk of the audience from seeing actor movements clearly, and the moments when characters connect are drained off life due to where they are standing onstage. Jahl understands the inter-generational conflict at the heart of the play, but he refuses to allow his actors to paint in subtle hues. So the actors start at eleven and push into anger so great, it's hard to believe human beings would have the conversations they are shouting.
House has a good sense of the rise of fall of events in a play, but he has yet to harness how to deepen character moments and dialogue, to allow complexity and multiple points of view exist simultaneously, in order for the audience to be questioning themselves as much as the characters are interrogating each other. What could be an immersive domestic drama becomes static and effortful, and not worth the audience's time.