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Review: Gas For Less

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 11, 2008 4:51PM

The timing of this Goodman Theatre production sure is right on the money. "The gas station that inspired the play----which was on the corner of Lincoln and Berteau Streets on the North Side--closed, and I was sort of flabbergasted. I'd lived in the neighborhood for a long time, and Gas For Less was a landmark," explains playwright Brett Neveu. "When the station closed, I asked around to find out what happened. I heard that the owners couldn't afford to buy gas anymore." Neveu's play centers around his fictionalized version of this gas station; but it could take place in a neighborhood bar, or an indie coffeehouse, or any other homegrown business that's threatened with extinction when an area starts to gentrify. What do people do when a neigborhood landmark that's been there for decades suddenly disappears? Where do they go?

"Arthur & Son" is actually run by Art Sr., a crusty Pole who's seen it all, and his grandson Anthony, a regular working stiff who asks for nothing more than to sit behind the counter and let the time pass as it always has. Old-timer Pat joins them regularly for the ritual of watching Bears games on the gas station TV. Neveu picks two of them from late 2005, vs. Browns and vs. Packers, and fashions them into an earthy metaphor for a dying institution. When Pat ruminates on Brett Favre's history or Anthony sticks up for the Bears defense, it isn't hard to catch the parallels. There probably isn't another living playwright who captures the heart and soul of Chicagoans as precisely as Neveu, and a perfect cast makes every word and gesture ring true.

Neveu's play Empty remains the most honest and straightforward examination of our reaction to 9/11. Here he has broadened his scope even while keeping the action itself tightly focused (no more than four people are onstage at any one time). Although there's plenty of heart and humor on display (how could there not be in a play about Bears fans?) Gas For Less is ultimately about things falling apart. When the inevitable moments of violence finally erupt, for once they're not about someone trying to prove their manhood. They're just naked expressions of hopelessness by human beings in pain.

Gas For Less runs at the Goodman through 6/22.