By Maria Irene Fornes
Directed by Marti Lyons
Produced by Tooth and Nail Ensemble and Two Lights Theatre Company
Weird production of a terrible play makes for a long 75 minutes
I wonder sometimes why a theatre company chooses a weird play that even with a strong cast and unique production elements doesn’t capture an audience’s attention? That is the case with Maria Irene Fornes’ The Conduct of Life now at the Viaduct Theatre. Director Marti Lyons uses a four guitar and a cello band to add an opening and closing song (with mostly incoherent lyrics) to cover for the many blackouts. The show is told in a series of short vignettes that have no through line nor do they work together to make for a coherent story. The play is about a sadistic young military officer, Orlando (the intense Kevin V. Smith) whose addiction to violence consumes his entire life. He is an intelligence officer who interrogates prisoners. He seems to enjoy his work.
We meet him and his family–led by his wife, Leticia (Elizabeth Olson)–who is a self-centered woman devoid of tenderness, obsessed with the household chores, with a lack of sexual appetite. Orlando keeps a sex slave, Nena (Meghan Reardon) who he constantly rapes and tortures. The housekeeper Olimpia (Sandra Lindberg) fights with Leticia while Aalejo (Tim Martin) is Orando’s stoic fellow Army officer.
This 75 minute series of disjointed vignettes has no cohesive story to tell except that Orlando is a sadist, wife beater, sociopath and all-around nasty guy. The army made him that way. We see him continue to get worse yet his wife never leaves him nor does his fellow officer try to help keep Orlando from going over the edge.
My biggest problem with The Conduct Of Life is with the writing and its clumsy structure. Many of the scenes are long meaningless monologues about such irrelevances (to the story) as what to cook for dinner, why the housekeeper needs a new pot, etc. Yes, Orlando is a violent person–a sexual predator and a human beast. We get that. Now why playwright Fornes write so many meaningless scenes and create a crew of characters that we never care about? The work is hard to follow and gimmicks like live music and long speeches only adds to restlessness we all felt. I can’t understand why this play was written much less produced. This is a one note story filled with disturbing scenes that climaxes in more violence. The tedious blackouts and dark scenes droned on until the band started another song while the cast assembled on stage–signaling that the show had ended. 75 minutes can be an eternity when staring at such bad material.
At the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N Western, Chicago, IL, call 773-296-6024, tickets $15, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission.