By Keith Reddin
Directed by Emily Campbell
As part of Steppenwolf’s Next Up
At the Steppenwolf Garage, Chicago
Perplexing play isn’t sure if it’s a tragedy or a dark comedy
Playwright Keith Reddin’s first play, Life and Limb, is a tricky beast as it initiates a family drama about a married couple dreaming of a better life filled with things including a TV once Franklin (Jurgen Hooper) returns from the Korean War. Effie (Grace Rex) is obsessed with going to the movies as she and her girlfriend Doina (Audrey Francis) see life in terms of film plots and film stars.
When Franklin comes home minus his right arm, the couple struggles to fulfill their dreams of material trappings since Franklin is having trouble finding work. It seems no one wants a one-armed veteran working for them. His bitterness is vented on Effie as his tantrums drive her away to escape into more movies.
Franklin eventually gets a job at a factory that makes artificial limbs run by a young ex-army vet Tod (Chris Froseth) and his spirits are lifted despite the degrading sex acted the sadistic Tod demands from Franklin to secure the job. If these quirky scenes that move from realism to absurdity are no perplexing enough, consider the Reddin next has Effie and Doina die when the balcony of the movie theater collapses. They end up in hell. We are never sure why Doina is in hell but Effie’s sin is adultery while Franklin was estranged.
To exaggerate this more, hell, run by Jerry (Tom Hickey) is a white clad place where Doina and Effie must knit potholders for eternity. What? Franklin morns Effie while his nasty boss Tod keeps forcing him to do humiliating things. There is a nasty boy and an old man all of which end up in hell pushing shopping carts around a big-box store for all eternity.
This engrossing tale is a mixture of satire and realism that breaks conventional storytelling motifs. It part dark comedy and part absurdism with shallow underdeveloped characters do baffling things. The mixed focus hurts the production but Jurgen Hooper, Grace Rex and Chris Froseth’s performance make the show tolerable. If only Reddin’s writing wasn’t so bizarre. But there is enough here to make for a night at the theatre.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: June 13, 2012
For more info checkout the Life and Limb page at theatreinchicago.com