Directed by Seth Bockley
At Victory Gardens Theater
Frustrating new work fizzles from over-the-top production.
It has been a longtime since I left a theatre as frustrated as when I left Victory Gardens Theater after sitting through 95 minutes of Philip Dawkins’ Failure: A Love Story. My sense was that beneath all the over produced gimmicks by director Seth Bockley there lies a worthy play from a talented Chicago playwright. Unfortunately, several elements and fatal decisions doomed the work for me.
Combining a fast-paced vaudevillian style with story telling elements that turns the cast into expository narrators made the audience not empathize with most of the Fail family. This play is on-third story theatre, one-third acted drama, and one-third gimmicks. The early manic shouting and movements failed to engage me (or the audience) into the work. Instead of creating a whimsical fable, Failure: A Love Story unfolds as a work devoid of heart as we are forced to wade through the muddled style that theatrically used music and narration to irritate more than enhance the production. Too much absurdist tactics and forced humor resulted in head-scratching amazement. A little goes a long way so having actors play clocks and animals gets old quickly.
Philip Dawkins story is about the Fail family who immigrated to Chicago fro Eastern Europe at the start of the 2oth Century. Janet Ulrich Brooks and Guy Massey play the parents who are clock makers living in Chicago. It is 1928, the year that finds the three Fail daughters dying from the trauma of a blunt object -Nelly (Baize Buzan); drowning- Jenny June (Emjoy Gavino); and Gertrude (Mildred Marie Langford). Add the adapted son, John N – (Michael Salinas)- an animal friendly anti-social nerd and the Fails surly are a dysfunctional family.
Dawkins’ unique take on themes such as water, the relationship between clocks and time and memories asks the question about love and all its unpredictably. The writing has moments of brilliance and the language is marvelous. Too bad all the clutter became too clever thus diluting the impact of the work. Amazingly, only John N- the animal lover nerd and Mortimer (Matt Fletcher)- the suitor to all three daughters are empathetic characters. Fletcher gave the best performance of the night with Guy Massey’s turn as the dying dog a close second.
I think with some editing and a tighter focus, Dawkins will have a wonderful, witty play. A new director with a clear focus minus the gimmicks would serve the play well. As presented now, you’ll either laugh and love the quirky production or you’ll be frustrated (as I was) with the tedious over produced gimmicks.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2012
For more info checkout the Failure: A Love Story page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Richard Christiansen Theatre at Victory Gardens Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL< call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $35 – $50, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 7;30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through December 30, 2012