Playwright: Marvin Eduardo Quijada. At: Silent Theatre Company at 1914 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: www.silenttheatre.com; $15-$20. Runs through: Aug. 31
As befits its name, Silent Theatre Company has built a reputation through the years for its dedication to pantomimed storytelling and its very stylized approach to black-and-white sets, costuming and makeup.
So if you've previously seen a trademark black-and-white Silent Theatre show, you might be taken aback by the colorful backstage dressing room set that greets you for the new collaboration known as The Dueling Gentlemen. You might also have to adjust to the Silent Theatre creative hub space which feels just like an industrial artist's loft apartment that reverberates along to the passing Blue Line CTA trains near the Western stop.
But once you get over the surroundings and the addition of color, the typical Silent Theatre style of storytelling kicks into high gear in The Dueling Gentlemen with its tale tied to a team of vaudeville performers and their rapidly deteriorating professional and personal relationship.
Created and performed by Marvin Eduardo Quijada, The Dueling Gentlemen focuses on the collaboration between Peter the Perfectionist ( Quijada ) and Albert the Alcoholic ( Dan Howard ), and their oft-performed two-man vaudeville act called The Ugly Blonde. The show starts with this very funny and dramatic routine while Albert and Peter play roles such as thwarted suitor, accepted suitor, marrying priest and of course, the title Ugly Blonde.
But then we get a glimpse of their professional disharmony backstage, as Albert rails against his five-year contract while Marvin tries to maintain the quality of their performances. Things turn murderous by the end, all the while Ian Paul Custer providing solid musical accompaniment as the Guy on the Piano, while stage manager Shannon Evans keeps things apace with the proper timing of the projected title cards and snippets of written dialogue.
The Dueling Gentlemen certainly deserves praise for its main performances as Quijada and Howard get across the seething anger and resentment of two vaudevillians who really wish they were either better behaved or free to offer more variety in performance. But the repeated play-within-a-play routine of The Ugly Blonde gets a tad tiresome after a while, especially since Quijada and Howard need to make the performance breakdowns more distinct and dramatic. ( Otherwise, audiences will likely compare them unfavorably to Michael Frayn's celebrated 1982 backstage theater farce Noises Off. )
And at a running time of just over an hour, The Dueling Gentlemen could also have used more plot machinations to offer more dramatic meat to the project. But as a piece of theatrical silent theater, Silent Theatre definitely lives up to its name again with The Dueling Gentlemeneven with the potentially unsettling addition of color.