Playwright: Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa
At: About Face at Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln
Phone: 773-871-3000; $20-$45
Runs through: Nov. 19
By Jonathan Abarbanel
Say you're a graduate student in Russian literature. Say you have an OK face and bod ( about which you're self-conscious ) , but you're not a party boy. Say you have a sweetheart of a med student pal who wants to love you forever. Say that one night in the laundromat, a handsome, hard-bodied hunk only has eyes for you. Say his eyes, and all his stunning anatomy, stay glued to you alone through two months of the best dirty sex you've ever had. Say he tells you he's the Devil's spawn, and you find yourself turning evil in his company. Say you love Satan. 'Evil incarnate has a six-pack, shoulders this wide and zero percent body fat. I've had worse boyfriends,' our hero, Andrew, tells us.
Putting itself back in the mode of Xena Live! and Pulp ( which will be remounted later this season ) , About Face Theatre offers Say You Love Satan, a fast-paced comedy by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, rapidly rising playwright and author of the Spider Man and Fantastic Four comics. It's a thin but engaging work in the manner of the old gay sitcom Brothers, but minus the relentless machine gun of one-line laughs. Rather, Say You Love Satan borrows from the early Durang-Inaurato satire, The Idiots Karamazov, using Fyodor Dostoevsky's dialogue between good and evil as a framing device. Not a lotta laughs in Dostoevsky.
But not to worry: This 90-minute show ( with intermission ) is a sprint from start to finish, especially as guided by superior track coach Scott Ferguson, who firmly believes the race is to the quick. He's assembled deft artists about him, none more so than Scott Duff, who turns a series of cameo supporting roles into comic scene stealers. But it's tall, dark-haired Jonathan Pereira as Old Scratch—given the mortal name Jack and the satanic name of Abaddon—who'll send tingles through your private parts, as the Church Lady might say, balancing sincerity against intentional seductiveness. Joshua Rollins is exactly right as Andrew, a bland yet pleasantly engaging Ethan Green type. The troupe is filled out by Elizabeth Ledo as Andrew's gal pal and Benjamin Sprunger—perhaps a bit too muscular and handsome—as the soft-spoken and eternally-caring med school boyfriend.
Viewed at the final preview, the pace was snappy but timing on a few joke lines still was tentative. Some references, such as one to the Dakota ( the New York building where Rosemary's Baby was filmed ) , went over the audience's head. Although happily gay, the production declines to take advantage of numerous possibilities to titillate. Actually, it could use more skin and sex as these are Satan's allure. But this is About Face, where you only see flesh when they do baseball plays. Nonetheless, you'll enjoy Say You Love Satan.
Inherit the Wind
Playwright: Robert E. Lee, Jerome Lawrence
At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Contact: ( 847 ) 673-6300; $34-$56
Runs through: Nov. 12
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
Thanks goodness we settled the whole relgion-in-school debate with the 1925 Scopes trial. Otherwise, we'd still be suffering the little children to reject the precepts of godless science in favor of the Old Testament.
Oh, wait. Never mind.
'You don't think this kind of thing is ever over, do you?' renowned attorney Henry Drummond asks sardonically at the end of the trial in Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence's drama Inherit the Wind.
Guess not. More than 80 years after a Tennessee teacher was jailed for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution, we're still fighting over whether science curricula should be shoved aside for the oxymoronic 'intelligent design.'
That means Inherit the Wind resonates like it was 1925 all over again, as Bertram Cates ( Levi Holloway, in a role based on real teacher John Scopes ) is locked up after featuring The Origin of Species in his lesson plan.
Cates' plight brings to town the most galvanizing lawyer/orators the country has ever known—Henry Drummond ( Scott Jaeck as the Clarence Darrow figure ) and Matthew Harrison Brady ( Tony Mockus, as the William Jennings Bryan stand-in ) .
For the good folk of small-town Hillsboro ( Dayton, Tenn., in the real Scopes trial ) , the line between good and evil is clear and literal: Brady takes his orders directly from Jesus Christ. Drummond is a tool of Satan—and he may be Satan himself, and there's nothing metaphorical about it.
Directed by Jessica Thebus, Inherit the Wind is greater than the sum of its parts. The play itself isn't great—the anti-Darwin forces are bumpkin caricatures rather than fully-drawn humans. And while there's a strong argument to be made that Biblical literalists are willfully simple-minded, Inherit the Wind would be stronger dramatically if we could glimpse a shred of humanity behind the close-minded convictions.
As for Cates, it's just not believable that someone as smart and thoughtful as this character would be so utterly befuddled and shocked at the consequences of teaching evolution in an ultra-conservative town knows as the 'buckle in the Bible belt.'
Furthermore, Inherit the Wind goes on too long. There are several unnecessary codas, the most annoying of which has Cates' girlfriend waxing wonderstruck about how ideas are 'babies that must be born.'
Even so, the production is worthwhile. Totally de-hunkified to portray the rumpled, intellectually fit but physically fraying Drummond, Scott Jaeck provides a fascinating touchstone to the piece. ( Mockus has less to work with: Bryan's golden, galvanizing powers had long faded by the time the Scopes trial began, and that's also the case with the Brady character. )
The supporting cast is competent, with Amy Warren providing compelling, melodious supporting work in several roles, including as a radio announcer who makes on-air history by broadcasting the verdict live and paving the way for a dig at the state of radio today.
The Petrified Forest
Playwright: Robert E. Sherwood
At: The Artistic Home, 1420 W. Irving Park
Phone: 886-811-4111; $20-$22
Runs through: Nov. 26
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
A perennial obstacle faced by playwrights is a means of preventing their fictional personnel from abandoning the story when the going gets tough. The English 'locked room' thrillers looked to locale for their solutions—island resorts, snowbound lodges, ocean liners, etc. But in America, a country founded on restless explorers defying nature's menace, only outlaw guns were felt to provide deterrence sufficient to freeze citizens into passive compliance for the duration of the plot. Hence, the hostage drama came into play, exemplified by such plays as The Desperate Hours, Wait Until Dark and When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?, the prototype for which is this classic melodrama by Robert E. Sherwood.
The American southwest of 1934 remained isolated territory, despite such modern devices as radios, telephones and automobiles. Geography is not what keeps the Maple clan imprisoned in discontentment, however, nor is it economic devastation—old Grandpa Maple possesses a fortune in savings as well as a family-run gas station-café in the Arizona desert near the tourist attraction of the play's title. To be sure, war-veteran son Jason wants to sell the property and start a business in Los Angeles, and granddaughter Gabrielle dreams of joining her expatriate mother in Europe, but it takes the intervention of not one, but two, strangers—a down-on-his-luck author and a marauding bank robber on the run—to propel them to their goals.
Even to audiences in its own time, The Petrified Forest had a curiously 19th-century ambience, with its romantic archetypes and lyrical language, rendered downright operatic under Kathy Scambiatterra's direction for this Artistic Home production. But though some of the actors seem still unsure of their characters—Peter Fitzsimmons' lustful ex-jock comes off more puppyish than threatening, and Leticia Ramirez' cook is unnecessarily shrill at times—the principals, led by John Mossman as the courtly philosopher-hero and Mike Carroll as the likewise chivalrous villain, transcend their text's intellectual formalism with a verbal expertise generating suspense to bring us to an emotionally satisfying climax.