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Theatre Review: More Trouble in the UK

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 29, 2006 10:01PM

Our search for fine British plays continued on the North Side where we took in a timely neighborhood drama and a comic slice of life.

Osama the Hero, Dog & Pony Theatre
“We do what we’re told, told to do.” – Peter Gabriel

A community on edge from a terrorist threat and a fear mongering media goes ballistic when a bomb detonates in Mark’s (Brian Rickel) garage, killing his wife. Gary (Jarrett Sleeper), an awkward high schooler suspended for calling Bin Laden a hero to his followers, is kidnapped by Mark’s neighbors Louise and Frances (Lois Atkins and David Gray), who tie him to a chair and then, along with Mark and his friend Mandy (Kim Purdy), force him to confess or face their wrath. As Sleeper plays the scene, we truly believed he was innocent and no one else cared to believe him.

osama cast.jpgWhat followed was some of the most disturbingly well-staged violence we’ve seen in a long time, a moment where playwright Dennis Kelly and director Krissy Vanderwarker pinpoint the psychology of misdirected rage in the name of national and international security.

Too bad Kelly structures the rest of the play in more static monologues, confessionals, and petty squabbles, staged claustrophobically by Vanderwarker. We reach the climactic struggle familiar with the characters but not terribly invested in anyone. Louise’s stubborn ethical relativism and Mark’s arrested development and frightening pathos were excellently played. They, and these issues, deserve to be part of something bigger.

Dealer's Choice, Shattered Globe Theatre
“There’s no glory / It’s just another story.” – The Clash

Patrick Marber’s engrossing comedy about small-time blokes living for high-stakes cards comes to life in a meticulously recreated restaurant also known as the Victory Gardens upstairs studio. Director Steve Scott’s ensemble expertly captures Marber’s working class lads and their outsized dreams, their petty power squabbles, their strained affection and naked aggression. There’s smartass Sweeney (Gregory Hardigan), delightfully daft Frankie (Brian McCaskill), and the good natured but usually clueless Mugsy (Raymond L. Chapman) testing their boss Steven (Doug McDade) with their antics and amusing him with their ridiculous schemes. Steven’s son Carl (Kevin Viol) puts on a cool front that his dad sees right through. Carl owes a few Gs to his gambling buddy Ash (Nigel Patterson), and convinces the gambling pro to collect at that night’s game.

dealers cast.jpgYou know what comes next: a testosterone-laced game where the stakes will escalate, Ash will be found out, Steven will confront his son, and the other laddies will try to keep up. But this show did surprise us. Marber follows the old cliché about life lessons learned at the table, but what we find out is unexpected.

Each of the actors knows his stakes. Steven and Carl are played without sentiment, they love each other but at times can barely stand one another. Frankie, Sweeney, and Mugsy focus intensely on more modest concerns, to hilarious effect. Ash is brilliantly realized by Patterson; a few subtle gestures at a dining table are a window into the last two or three decades of his life.

This show works precisely because these guys are so ordinary. Shattered Globe’s season brochure promises “The Everyday Extraordinary,” which sounds hokey until you actually sit through a show as riveting as this.

Osama the Hero is at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave, Thursdays - Sundays through April 8. Tickets are $15. Dealer's Choice is at the Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N Lincoln Ave, Thursdays - Sundays through May 14. Tickets are $26-35.

Photos by Timmy Samuel, Dog & Pony Theatre; J.B. Spector, Shattered Globe Theatre.