A Guide For the Perplexed

A guide for the perplexed by Joel drake johnson
A Guide For the Perplexed

Directed by Sandy Shinner

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Superb acting saves bewildering play

When you have Kevin Anderson, Francis Guinan and young Bubba Weiler in your cast you have the makings of a fine show. Their acting and the smart flowing direction by Sandy Shinner save the evening. Joel Drake Johnson’s strange play, A Guide For the Perplexed, sure is a puzzlement since it leaves more  unanswered questions than it resolves.  The work is funny in places and poignantly heart-breaking in other places. It incompletely sets up things, than quickly drops them leaving the ending as most implausible.

A guide for the perplexed by Joel drake johnson

Kevin Anderson gives a fully-rounded performance as the guilt-ridden, unloved ex-con forced by circumstances to live with his estranged sister and her excessive-compulsive cowardly husband, Phillip (Francis Guinan in a fabulous turn as the shaky compulsive). The long bonding scene whereby Phillip set the “house rules” for Doug is a clinic for comedic timing and character expression. Anderson and Guinan command their scenes deftly. Will Doug ever be rehabilitated? And is he the only soul here in such need?

A guide for the perplexed by Joel drake johnson

We meet the teenage son Andrew (played with skill by 17 year old Bubba Weiler) who is a neurotic, genius, closeted gay boy whose mind is filled with suicide thoughts. Add a prisoner-worshiping  rich woman Betty (convincing work by Cynthia Baker) who travels to meet Doug after months of letter exchanges and you have a quirky journey of redemption that defies credibility at times.

A guide for the perplexed by Joel drake johnson

We see that Doug has never been loved and he believes he is incapable of loving. Phillip is a cowardly, timid and fastidious man incapable of communicating his feelings with his wife Shelia (Meg Thalken) or his son Andrew.  Pain, guilt and fear dominate these characters’ world. Each of these poor souls are at a crisis juncture that finds them desperately dependent on others in their lives for help. Each has trouble asking for help.

A guide for the perplexed by Joel drake johnson

Johnson’s action leads to a plausible tragic ending for Doug and Andrew as each speak to their constant thought of suicide but Johnson copes out with a made-for-TV ending that left me puzzled.  This play sure has potential to be  powerful theatrical experience but with too many unanswered and unresolved situations, A Guide For the Perplexed merely comes across as an actor’s vehicle to showcase their talents playing unique characters.  This work is underwritten leaving us unsatisfied. However, the expert acting by Anderson, Guinan and Weiler carries us  to a worthy evening of theatre. There is enough here to make the trip to the Biograph Theater worth it.

Recommended

Tom Williams

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N.Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, tickets $20 – $50, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, limited Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.