Author: Dane A. Campbell
At: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-327-5252 or Stage773.com; $25-$40. Runs through: Dec. 31
Nothing strikes as much fear in my heart as reading the words, "conceived, written, directed and filmed by" a single person.
It can sometimes mean you'll be treated to a work of genius or great vanity. When it comes to Dane A. Campbell and Fearless Fiction Productions' new extravaganza, Roomies, separating the vanity and genius elements gets tricky. On one hand, Roomies could use some judicious red swipes from an editor's pen, but on the other hand, it's a great showcase for actors of color and draw for theatergoers of color. It's exactly what Chicago needs.
Roomies is a stage play that features a series of short films and music videos, and it plays best to a packed house. It's the turducken that forms when you serve an episode of Hangin' With Mr. Cooper inside a drama with adult themes penned by baptist church deacons, all encased in a Tyler Perry melodrama. It's much too much, but we are at a theatrical Old Country Buffet, and any less would seem sparse. What's weird is that this production works when it shouldn't. Roomies isn't poignant art, but it is subduing and familiar. If any other show ran overtime by 45 minutes ( fair warningit does ), patrons would have revolted; instead, Roomies viewers hunkered down and made friends. The premise is well-worn, the jokes haven't met an audience member they wouldn't pander to, and it's got more melodrama than a soap opera, but it workseven for me, a press member, which I doubt the creators were concerned about but, hey, bonus!
The premise is paper-thin, but gussied up in soap-opera style: Newly minted mogul Brandon Miles ( Dujuan Austin, Jr. ) is pressured by his mother ( Thea Camara ) into buying a house, but no sooner does he settle in and pop the question to girlfriend Tamra ( Andrea Hendricks ), than his friends appear to take advantage of his generosity and spare bedrooms. First Randy ( Darrell Lee Brown ), Brandon's gay stylist cousin appears, then Shondell ( DontaÃ© Johnson ) needs a place to stay out his home arrest, then sex addict Zachary ( RJ Cecott ) and his overbearing mom ( Kailin Vannatter ) show up. The place becomes a magnet for every waspy neighbor ( Courtney Thompson, Cameron Smith and Arlene ), insatiable sexpot ( Cece Brown ) and work-adverse maintenance man ( Anthony Luis Rios ) around.
Roomies' cardinal sin is repetition. Every scene boils down to the same relationship fights, sassy gay retorts and attempts at ill-advised trysts, eliciting the same jeers a sitcom would. The communal acting range is set to maximum clown, and director Campbell just wants to ensure something ridiculous is happening at all times. This is the new commedia, and it already has a sequel in the works.