Stage Shorts–Plays From Haven, Organic and Broken Nose

Stage Shorts is our new column for Third Coast Review. It’s our way of covering more of Chicago’s fabulous storefront theaters and giving you more choices in the plays you can see. Check out this column of mini-reviews to keep up to date on all the latest Stages offerings.

Organic Theater Company: Tiresias Was a Weatherman Lampoons Our Prozac Nation

Shaina Schrooten (Annabelle) and Adam Zaininger (Sun). Photo by Anna Gelman.

Annabelle (Shaina Schrooten) is privately grieving her late brother’s death. She smokes pot and does yoga, which she argues are holistic ways to balance her mood but are in stark contrast contrast to the habits of her peers. You see, everyone else is doped up on antidepressants: an agenda pushed by her clinically emotionless stepfather Troy (John Arthur Lewis). He is the CEO of the cynically named Crazy Pants Pharmaceutical Company, and when not keeping Annie’s drugged out mother in emotional check, Troy is busy developing the world’s first mood altering implant. With the the help of a programmable controller, the device will stabilize the user’s mind at an agreeable “65 and Sunny”; if he gets his way, Annabelle will soon be fixed by this pseudo-lobotomy.

While the weather/emotion parallel in this world premiere for Organic Theater Company provides an interesting jumping off point (in Weatherman’s reality mood swings can create devastating hurricanes with tremendous death tolls) playwright Jaime Mire’s script never manages to brew a storm of its own. It’s oftentimes annoyingly twee; a Seussian parable with a brightly colored chorus of manifested meteorological phenomenon (Sun, Wind, Thunder, etc.) espousing rhymed warnings for our pill-popping brethren. And when the script aims to be more profound, as when Annie begins to muse on the utility of memory, Mire’s writing feels profoundly self-indulgent. Director Josh Anderson’s cast is mostly game for the massive tonal shifts and wacky asides, but the patchwork plotting never really adds up. Weatherman was allegedly modeled after Antigone; I noticed shades of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, more obvious, Pixar’s Inside Out. But ultimately the play’s amatuer mechanics don’t allow this concept to pack the punch of any aforementioned inspirations.

Tiresias Was a Weatherman runs until July 6 at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25.

-Matthew Nerber

Haven Theatre: The Displaced Comes Alive With the Hazards of Gentrification

Rashaad Hall and Karen Rodriguez. Photo by Austin D Oie.

The perils of gentrification are explosive in this comic horror story by Haven Theatre, directed by Jo Cattell. Playwright Isaac Gomez sets his play in Pilsen, where new owners Marisa (Karen Rodriguez) and Lev (Rashaad Hall) have just moved into their apartment in an old building. They’ve been together for two years and they’re still working out their relationship. She’s an actor, going out on auditions; he’s an artist who works a restaurant gig. Does she quite trust him? Is that why she wants to play Truth or Dare? Is he fully invested in their relationship? “Why haven’t you introduced me to your parents? It’s been two years and I’ve never met them,” she says.

The building doesn’t seem quite ready to welcome them either. Arnel Sancianco’s set, composed mostly of empty packing boxes, occasionally has electrical hallucinations. Alexa, their home assistant, has a mind of her own, more than usual. And when Lev climbs up to the attic to find the circuit breakers, he finds a coconut with strange contents. Are the former owners still there? Is it wrong for people of means to move into poor old neighborhoods? It’s not gentrification, Marisa tells Lev, when a Mexican moves into a Mexican neighborhood.

Erik S. Barry’s lighting and Sarah D. Espinoza’s sound design are essential parts of this production, as is Josh Prisching’s work as master electrician. Cattell’s direction and performances by two talented actors get the timing and tension just right.

The Displaced runs about 95 minutes and continues at the Janet Bookspan Theatre on the first floor of the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., through July 1. You’ll be spooked the next time the lights go out at home. Tickets are $20.

-Nancy Bishop

Broken Nose Theatre: The Opportunities of Extinction Knows What Will Kill You — Your Phone

Echaka Agba and Richard Costes. Photo by Austin D Oie.

A hotshot academic and his journalist wife find desert refuge from a social media scandal in this Chicago premiere courtesy of Broken Nose Theatre. He’s tweeted something horrible, and she’s struggling to support him while dealing with a professional crisis of her own. While they’re setting camp and rehashing old quarrels, the lovers are visited by a young park ranger whose diatribes about Joshua Trees and mass extinctions manage to land a little too close to home in light of the couple’s recent troubles. Conversations about giant ancient sloths, career woes, mortality and the social equity of Twitter are contemplated and debated as the couple unravel in the face of a uniquely modern conflict.

Extinction offers some nifty insights about technology and human nature from playwright Sam Chanse, but Jen Poulin’s static staging doesn’t give us much room to ponder. I also found myself disappointed when the scandal’s details finally emerged; no fault of the production, but compared to recent real life controversies, the tweet in question just doesn’t feel like it earns the supposed outrage implied here. Echaka Agaba delivers some standout moments as the conflicted wife of a man in free fall, but Richard Costes’ clueless professor and Aria Szalai-Raymond’s abrasive nature nerd never amount to characters you’d want to share a campfire with.

The Opportunities of Extinction runs until June 30 at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets are pay-what-you-can.

-Matthew Nerber

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