Darrell W. Cox and Jessie Fisher in Some Girl ( s ) . Photo courtesy of Profiles Theatre. Playwright: Neil LaBute At: Profiles Theatre Company,4147 N. Broadway, Phone: 773-549-1815; $25-$30, Runs through: Oct. 28
Even if you've never seen him before in your life, you'll recognize Guy, the infuriatingly irresistible and eminently recognizable antihero of Neil LaBute's Some Girl ( s ) . He's The One—The One you fall in love with, who makes you believe in the possibility of enduring joy and whose mere presence turns the world into a place of luxurious, galloping elation. And he's the guy who moves on without warning, leaving indelible yearning, confusion and humiliation in his boyish wake.
He meant well, Guy ( Darrell Cox ) earnestly explains to an ex—the emotionally crippled—with the casual ease of somebody tossing out an old pair of socks. To which the ex responds in an icy stab of exquisite clarity: 'Oppenheimer meant well. Pol Pot meant well. '
Playwright LaBute, director Joe Jahraus and off-Loop leading man Cox fit together like perfectly cut puzzle pieces. And while Some Girl ( s ) isn't LaBute's best work, the intoxicating convergence of precisely the right actor, director and playwright make Profiles' production a twisted treat of emotional heft and devious humor.
The set up is formulaic, but effective: On the verge of getting married, Guy is looking up old girlfriends and trying—or so he tells himself—to right a parade of wrongs that range from abandoning his high school sweetheart on prom night to molesting his best friend's 11-year-old sister.
True to form, LaBute doesn't make Guy an easily vilified cad. Rather, Guy falls somewhere in the squeamishly gray territory between pathological monster and deeply flawed humanity—he's a selfish Peter Pan who can't be completely condemned because he truly has nary a clue as to how solipsistic he is. Guy is also charismatic, charming and heart-breakingly loveable even when he's talking utter horseshit. Confronted with his unthinking cruelties, he says things like 'I can't help it, I'm complex,' and actually believes it. LaBute's bitter humor gleams in Cox's depiction of a self-absorbed manchild whose very memory reshapes things in his favor.
As the women of Guy's past, Kristin Collins, Jessie Fisher, Sara Kaufman, Susan Price and Julie Zarlenga provide a vivid, human timeline of Guy's deplorable romantic life. Fisher, as a wild-child artist whose free love veneer masks a deep-seated vulnerability, is tersely heartbreaking when giggling, she shrugs, 'I was not always your number one priority. Not by a long shot.' And then comes the knife: 'It's never cool to be number two in a relationship. You prick.'
As an academic who manages to exact a degree of revenge on Guy, Price is whipcord of well-directed anger while Collins, as the high school sweetheart who never made it to the prom, embodies the phrase 'contents under pressure' as she tries to deal with the resurgence of barely concealed wounds.
Playwright: Dennis Watkins
At: House Theatre of Chicago at the Viaduct, 3111 N. Western
Phone: 773-251-2195; $17-$22
Runs through: Nov. 3
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
So how does a magician, heir to three generations of prestidigital art, tell us about his grandfather? In a magic show, of course, with card tricks, and circus clowns and spooky-tunes recalling Max Fleischer's funny-shivery cartoons. And who better to direct this fanciful memoir than Molly Brennan of the guignolesque 500 Clown?
But The Magnificents is not just another slam-bang artsy-cutesy everything-and-the-kitchen-sink carnival from House Theatre of Chicago. At the heart of the slapstick and slippery-shuffle is playwright Dennis Watkins' elegy for his grandfather, who—like his counterpart in the play—schooled his descendants not only in the mechanics of their craft, but in the humility necessary for its proper practice.
Our milieu reflects the fin de siécle trappings associated with the golden age of legerdemain, a decor extended to the collage-animation dream-sequences, together creating an ambience reminiscent of E.T.A. Hoffmann. This motif is also reflected in The Old Man, who speaks with a surly German accent, while his wife communicates in a vaguely Eastern European double-talk ( much of their dialogue drawn from Watkins grandpére's actual words, if the playbill notes of Watkins petit fils—his persona, the silent orphan Boy apprenticed by the old couple—are to be believed ) .
And then there's the magic—not mere stunts, hurled into the action like bricks down a chimney ( except for a plodding second-act ballad conspicuously lacking in the delicate fancy preceding it ) —but integrated into the narrative, each one carrying its full share of the story, as when open-heart surgery is depicted as a sawing-in-half turn, and death comes in an Asrah levitation. Along with the enraptured Boy, we delve the mysteries of scarf-and-wand manipulation, and marvel at the ancient cup-and-ball switcheroo.
But we also gasp in alarm when The Old Man coughs red foam balloons; sigh in sentimental bliss when the clock is, literally, turned back for a courtship waltz by the aged lovers; and are inconsolable when a vanishing canary refuses to reappear, until its safe return. The Sparrow may be HTC's fall dazzler, but this small twinkling gem generates sufficient Ta-DA! to earn our attention.