By Joshua Aaron Weinstein
Directed by Rebekah Scallet
Produced by Live Wire Chicago Theatre
At the Viaduct Theatre
Contemporary urban squatters tent city saga fizzles
Live Wire Chicago Theatre has mounted a world premiere drama by their Executive Director Joshua Aaron Weinstein – Lower Debt – now running at the Viaduct Theatre in Roscoe Village. This rambling work about a group of dispossessed folks squatting in an abandoned urban lot is a cliche ridden muddled story that tries to cover too much in 90 minutes.
We watch black and white film footage that introduces us to each character except for the two women and the man who take over the space and set up camp. The time is during an uncertain contemporary economic climate – a sort of 21st Century Grapes of Wrath.
Lower Debt is an urban fable centered around a collection of mysterious folks who gather into a community for some strange reasons never made clear. The squat is run by Claude (Malcolm Callan) with his wife Val (Melissa diLeonardo) and her sister Wendell (Annie Rix). Claude is an uptight nasty fellow who runs the squat with an iron fist. We never fully learn the background of these three. They seem to be escaping a horrible incident and they are fearful of all strangers.
They take in cash boarders: Ames (Tamara Anderson) a walking pharmacy, Rash (Josh Johnson) a taxi driver with loads of compassion for Leah (Miriam Reuter) – his dying girlfriend. Damon (Glenn Proud) is an alcoholic panhandler. The vague script never gives plausible background reasons why these folks need to be living in squealer since they seem to have cash? Only CW (Brian P. Cicirello) seems to be there due to being downsized from his copywriter job. CW seems to be looking for the muse to help him finish his screenplay.
The plot rambles on with several episodes that defy plausible explanation. The press notes state that the tent cities residents are “all searching for another way to live.” Okay, but why tents in a dirty industrial park? I could go on with more ‘why’ questions but Lower Debt ultimately fails as the story is a contrivance that is filled with doses of flowery language that comes off as pure ‘playwright speak’ that is inconsistent with the presented character. The slow pacing made me weary. I also never cared enough about any of the characters to interested in their problems. The CW and Rash characters could be developed more. The show sure needs a tighter focus. Too many unanswered questions. Playwright Joshua Aaron Weinstein needs to rethink this work.
At the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL, call 312-533-4666