Playwright: conceived and written by Marvin Eduardo Quijada. At: Silent Theatre at the Athenaeum, 2836 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6875; www.athenaeumtheatre.org; $17-$27. Runs through: Sept. 20
Theater companies founded on a narrow repertoryCommedia, Operetta, the collected works of Shakespeare/Shaw/Sondheimmight survive for a time on their appeal to a select audience but, sooner or later, will find it necessary to deviate from their initial mission. Silent theatre, by contrast, has remained faithful to its goal of replicating, through live-action performance, the aesthetic of pre-sound motion pictures. Rather than restricting the range of expression, though, exploration of this all-but-forgotten art form over the last 10 years now allows them to expand its boundaries to include, in a single 60-minute showcase, no fewer than five U.S. theatrical genres.
We begin with a vaudeville ( 19th- and early 20th-century variety-show entertainment ) sketch entitled The Ugly Blondea farce recounting the tale of a fickle woman who spurns one suitor to marry another, only to have the wedding interrupted by a violent confrontation between the two, leading the presiding clergyman to declare in disgust, "This is why priests don't get married!" What distinguishes this rendition of the familiar yarn is that all the roles are played by a single pair of actors employing quick changes of clothes, wigs etc. ( a stunt-oriented gimmick still popular today ). The narrative doesn't stop there, however, but moves backstage to reveal interpersonal tensions between the playershostilities affecting their comedic duties to increasingly fatal extremes.
Did I mention that this scenario is presented in the style of a 1920s-era movie, complete with title cards supplying the dialogue and a stageside pianist providing lush, heavily chorded accompaniment to what was at one time called "MELO-drama"? The few breaks with period conventionsa stage picture retaining its natural hues rather than those of the early cinematic palette, and, at one point, a character who texts and twerksbarely register, so consistent is the production's adherence to its chosen concept.
None of this would matter if Marcus Fittanto and Marvin Quijada were not operating at the top of their game in their respective portrayals of "The Drunk" and "The Perfectionist," whose rancorous relationship invokes pathos as infectiously intense as the clowning of their "onstage" personae elicits laughter. Credit is due the physical agility of both performers, but also that of Eliot Taggart as "The Guy on the Piano," who navigates Ian Custer's score with an aural dexterity matching that of his visual counterparts. The results make for a bravura tour turn as exquisitely executed as it is rarely essayed. Don't miss this opportunity to see it.