Walkabout Theater Company’s
By: Joe Zarrow
Directed by: Cassy Sanders
At Swim Café
Site-specific farce has moments of humor, but does not always work in chosen performance space.
I find the concept of doing site-specific work continually exciting because it allows artists to escape the confines of the theatre and bring a new/real element to the performance. The danger with this type of performance is that the space chosen may not be ideal for a play due to poor sight lines, uncomfortable temperatures, inclement weather, poor sound quality, and other various obstacles. Walkabout Theater Company’s production of The Pigeons deserves kudos for taking this play and placing the location that is talked about in the script. This adds a personal touch to the performance. However, the space that has been chosen, Swim Café, is exceedingly warm with bad sight lines that only enable a little over half the audience to experience the show.
Martin (Kevin Crispin) has just been kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment so he runs to the café where his best friend, and freeloading “roommate,” Lloyd (Keith Neagle) is always sitting around doing nothing. They discuss the nature of the breakup according to Martin, only to discover that he had an affair with Veronica, the owner of the café (Emma Stanton). Veronica is struggling with her personal identity as well as the financial means to keep the café open, since it had been funded by her rich family. Chaos erupts as Martin discovers the condo above the coffee shop is the only place available to buy or rent in all of Slippy Wipper (South Lincoln Park, West Wicker Park. One of the most clever lines in the show.). He seduces and lies to the real-estate agent Bex (Mary Hollis Inboden) and tricks her persistent boyfriend Chad (Travis Williams) in order to secure the condo of his dreams. The condo is really not the condo of his dreams, he just needs the place in order to keep doing his job. This part of the play I found puzzling because there are very few places I am aware of that require employees to live in the area they work, perhaps it is important to this area. The action is also interrupted by The Pierogi Lady (Mary Mikva) who has more in mind for the café than just selling her pierogis.
The story is very madcap and full of great lines and colorful characters, but it lacks a human touch. These characters do not seem to care for one another all that much, even Lloyd and Martin who are best friends. The script has some very amusing moments, and playwright Joe Zarrow definitely has a firm grasp on the gentrification of the West Town neighborhood, but the pieces of the script do not amount to a satisfying whole. Another way the script falls short is the fight for the upstairs condo. Martin wants it just so he can keep his job, while Chad wants it to impress his girlfriend even though the place is full of pigeons and pigeon droppings. The pierogi lady is the one with the most to gain (do not want to give away why), and I find her side-plot to be one of the most relevant to the play. This is because the café is near the “Polish Triangle” and Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Poland. It offers a slice of cultural history, and shows how the new wave hipster culture affected this culture. At first the crazy situations set up in the script are merely coincidence, but towards the end everything feels forced, planned, and done solely for the purpose of including another funny moment. Granted, it is a farce, but even a farce has to follow some form of logic within the comedy. This script seems to veer all over the place and not firmly express the message it wants to get across. All that said, I may have gotten more from the script if I was able to hear/see what was going on for the entire show.
Comedy is all about the pacing, and although the show is only a brisk eighty minutes, this show felt closer to two hours. Director Cassy Sanders fully utilizes the café, which is a good and bad thing as I have mentioned before. The best moments of the play come from Travis Williams as Chad. His cocky, Lincoln Park bro persona is often hilarious because he is so committed to the ridiculousness of his character. Keith Neagle is also likable as the slacker Lloyd, but I could rarely see his face from where I was. One character that I was unsure of was Emma Stanton as Veronica. I am not sure if this is an issue with the script, but Veronica does not come across as a likable character, so when bad things happen to her I did not feel much sympathy. Also, from someone who hears Polish accents on a regular basis, Mary Mikva as The Pierogi Lady is spot-on and constantly enjoyable. The cast does what they can with the show and the space, but they have so many obstacles working against them.
What this production needs is another space. While it is great to do site-specific work, if the audience is uncomfortable and unable to see, it is nearly impossible to enjoy the show regardless of how strong the work is. If you are going to see this show, it is best to get there early because if you are in the back of the café you are going to miss a lot of the action. I found myself peeking around the head of someone in front of me and trying to decipher what the people at the front of the café were laughing about. Although there are some truly hilarious moments, the piece is somehow unsatisfying due to some curious character choices, pacing, and just a general inability to enjoy the show from where I was watching. With a few re-writes and a new space, this show may be more enjoyable.
Date of Review: 5/4/2010
At Swim Cafe, 1357 W. Chicago Ave. Suggested Donation $10-15, Call 773-572-0341 or purchase at door. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays at 8:00 PM. Running time is approximately 80 Minutes with no intermission. Through June 7, 2010.