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Garage Repertory At Steppenwolf: Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 22, 2010 9:40PM

Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre is currently playing host to three productions from three of Chicago's small theatre companies: punkplay (Pavement Group), The Twins Would Like To Say (Dog & Pony Theatre Company), and Adore (XIII Pocket). We enthusiastically recommend two of them.


punkplay production photo by Peter Coombs
Our favorite of the three Rep shows, punkplay (by Gregory S. Moss) is a fun, quick-witted and linguistically acute story of two '80s teenagers searching for their identities. Their universally-relatable struggle to be cool is manifested in an overwhelming desire to be "punk." Hard-headed Duck (Alexander Lane) thinks punk is the ultimate answer - in addition to being "like, the final music," it's a lifestyle, duh - but Mickey (Matt Farabee) is more outwardly apprehensive. Although they're equally enthusiastic about, say, naming their band - there's a hilarious repeated sequence in which the two scream out their most recent lists of punk ideas - it's Duck who insists that Mickey get rid of all his non-punk music. The success of the show has everything to do with how seriously the boys take themselves - we could see it being too cartoonish in less capable hands, but director David Perez has navigated the fine line with impressive dexterity.

Lane and Farabee play off each other exceedingly well, and their strong performances are supported by Tanya McBride and Keith Neagle, who are spot-on in their multiple roles (particularly Neagle as Chris Sawtelle, the local subject of the boys' punk-idol-worship). The other important supporting factor here is impeccable design. We're normally put-off by multiple costume changes that aren't strictly necessary, but David Hyman's work supports the story without being intrusive. As set designer for all three Rep shows, Grant Sabin has flexed a huge amount of creative muscle - punkplay's seemingly simple set is incredibly functional, able to transform the space depending on where the boys are in their punk progression, as well as fun. We won't ruin the surprise, but the homage to Pee-Wee's Playhouse is what makes the show's dream sequence one of the funniest we've ever seen. That, and McBride's turn as President Reagan.

The Twins Would Like To Say

The Twins Would Like To Say production photo by Peter Coombs
A world-premiere play (written and directed by Seth Bockley and Devon de Mayo), The Twins Would Like To Say is based on the real lives of twins June and Jennifer Gibbons. Born in Barbados and raised in Wales, the pair spoke only to themselves (in reality they spoke to their little sister as well, but she is understandably not part of this adaptation) and made all of their decisions together. Welcomed by the girls' imaginary friend Mr. Nobody (Nick Leininger), we were free to wander amongst scenes taking place in "real-time" - the twins play together in their bedroom while their parents argue in the living room, or the girls' school therapist attempts to communicate with them while some neighboring children gossip about them. The promenade-style staging works well for this production, giving a simultaneously segmented and well-rounded glimpse into the girls' strange choice and the effect it had on those around them. The juxtaposition of fluidity and containment is smartly reinforced by set designer Grant Sabin's use of sliding panels to guide the audience.

June and Jennifer's extreme isolation was seemingly a catalyst for their creativity, as both became prolific writers of poems and short stories. Several of their (mostly escapist but uniformly disturbing) stories are presented toward the end of the play, with the audience seated in a more traditional style - sort of. Our spot happened to be in the girls' bedroom, right next to one of their beds. As the twins, Paige Collins and Ashleigh LaThrop fill their silence with incredible power, making it pointedly disorienting for us to share proximity and perspective with them for those few minutes. We liked it. The ensemble is strong all-around, but Collins and LaThrop are mesmerizing.


Adore production photo by Peter Coombs
Adore recounts a mutually-consensual cannibalistic act in a surprisingly uninteresting way. Armin (Eric Leonard), who always felt he was a cannibal but was never able to manifest this identity, spends much of the play explaining that his desire to consume someone was entirely based in love and the need to become his true self. Until he found Armin, Bernd (Paige Smith) was caught in a cycle of self-hatred that propelled him to only engage in sex as a form of self-punishment - his idea of romance, he says, could be likened to prison sex: "desperate with a touch of rape." The two have been waiting their whole lives to find each other. The play passes no judgment on either man, but rather tries to explain his position. Therein lies the problem.

The whole script (written by Stephen Louis Grush, who also directs) is explanation with very little drama. Although there were some thought-provoking (and cringe-inducing) moments, the shock-value of the subject matter was not enough to sustain us. We were surprised to find ourselves detached and mostly disinterested. Who would've thought cannibalism could seem so mundane?

punkplay, The Twins Would Like To Say and Adore are running in repertory through April 25 at Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted. Tickets to individual shows are $20 ($12 for students or pay-what-you-can on Wednesdays), or $45 for all three.