Playwright: Tina Jackson and Elise Mayfield. At: Pocket Full of Pandas at Gorilla Tango, 1919 N. Milwaukee. Phone: 773-598-4549; $15. Runs through: May 30
If the Gorilla Tango Theatre had the facilities to serve up a three-course meal, Pocket Full of Pandas could have marketed this show as a dinner-murder mystery package. But while patrons can bring drinks—purchased at the door—into the room for this Saturday late-nite show, no extra stimulation is really necessary to enjoy this whodunit.
As we enter the cozy storefront, a roving TV-news reporter informs us that this is 1999, and the superstar rock-and-roll band Velocirapture, currently traveling on its "Blow Your Toad" national tour, is playing a gig in Bucktown this very night. Gradually, we become acquainted with the personalities surrounding this event—a harried manager, a very pregnant make-up assistant and a groupie determined to worm her way backstage. And there are the band members, of course—most conspicuously, guitarist Van Van Stone, whose bossy girlfriend Noni ( née Wynona Fudd ) exhorts him to pursue a higher-paying solo career. Then Noni is found murdered in the alley behind the dressing room, with a subsequent police investigation raising additional dramatic questions involving the name of the cosmetician's babydaddy and the fate of former Velocirapture bassist KC Tremor after undergoing rehab.
Given the minuscule playing space and 60-minute running time, it's probably inevitable for the action to tumble along at such dizzying speed that we can barely follow the evidence ( as they say on CSI ) —in this genre, part of the fun is sleuthing along with the gumshoes, especially when our newshound polls spectators for their theories on the culprit's identity and motive. But Tina Jackson and Elise Mayfield's script has substantially more heft than the usual improv-based silliness. The archetypal characters are immediately familiar, the custom-composed music inoffensive ( CDs for sale in the lobby ) , and a fight scene—courtesy of Danielle Wheeler ( who doubles as the ultrabitch Noni ) and the aforementioned Mayfield—nothing short of spectacular. With increased development of the story arc and a more leisurely pace to smooth out the rough spots ( notably, the relationship between husband-and-wife detectives, the laid-back Inspector Eve and hyper-intense Inspector Barry ) , Between Rock And A Dead Place could emerge as summer entertainment tailor-made for weekend hipsters looking to relax between sweaty club scrimmages.