Review: Despite Potential, Be Here Now Never Manages to Spark Inspiration

There's a thoughtful core to Deborah Zoe Laufer's Be Here Now, the story of a bitter, cynical woman afflicted with headaches and seizures that leave her seeing the world as one full of colors, connection and hope. Enjoying its Chicago premiere thanks to Shattered Globe Theatre, Sandy Shinner directs this one-act examination of the limits we put on ourselves and the fleeting nature of life as we know it. Unfortunately, with a flawed performance at the center of things, the potentially intriguing narrative fails to spark the introspection it seeks. Be Here Now Image courtesy of Shattered Globe Theatre. Rebecca Jordan is Bari, a woman at a dead end in more ways than one; with an unfinished dissertation, she's been removed from her teaching job at an unnamed university in New York City, and without a job, she's returned home to Cooperville (a fictional town upstate, the program advises) to make ends meet at a fulfillment center that ships pseudo-spiritual kitsch to the semi-enlightened. She's angry, frustrated and generally sour about everything—a real laugh a minute. Her co-workers, Patty (Deanna Reed-Foster) and Luanne (Demetra Dee), are locals, too, and strike a stark contrast to Bari's cynicism. Sweet Luanne lives in a world of silver linings, while matriarchal Patty meets each of Bari's protestations with wisdom and tough love. When her coworkers insist on setting Bari up with their cousin, Mike (Joseph Wiens), she reluctantly agrees, if only to tank their first meeting by being...well, by being herself: awkwardly blunt and borderline rude. When one of her headaches hits, her personality shifts on a dime and all of a sudden she's very into Mike; the two jet off to her place before the mood fades. It's soon clear that whatever is interfering with Bari's awfulness isn't just a headache, and Bari is at a crossroads: is whatever going on inside her head her only shot at happiness, however life-threatening it may be? In their efforts to reason (and then outright argue) with Bari about her condition, both Reed-Foster and Wiens deliver strong performances with appropriate variations in energy, tone and volume. Mike in particular gets a tangential storyline that becomes a much more interesting narrative (and a play I'd be interested in seeing), thanks to his vulnerable interpretation. Unfortunately, Jordan never quite musters the same complexity in a performance so stilted and flat it borders on confusing; the character is bored and cynical, but that's no reason for the actor to be as well. Be Here Now aims high in its aspirations but only achieves a fraction of its potential; there are moments (delivered by the supporting cast) that click, several of which earned genuine responses from the small crowd at a Saturday night performance. But if the focal point of a production leaves its audience feeling disconnected and confused, it's difficult to recommend the thing as a whole. A Shattered Globe Theatre production, Be Here Now runs through October 19 at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Ave.); tickets are $15-$42. A full performance schedule and tickets is available online here.

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Lisa Trifone