City Lit Theater Mounts Play About City Living
Before the play even begins, anyone in the audience inclined to flip through their program will catch a major glimpse into its themes from the epitaph, a quotation from Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier: “A building is a machine for living in.” In an ordinary high-rise, this statement might seem innocuous enough. Not so at Thirteen Thirty North Lake Shore Drive. Douglas Post’s Forty-Two Stories asks what happens to the people inside when that machine is broken, with (tragi?)-comic results.
This tale of people working and living in an apartment building serves implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, as a microcosm of society, a group of people struggling to live and stay sane in a world gone increasingly mad. From grandiloquent discussions of population dynamics and arcology (a combination of architecture and ecology) to a brusque comparison of the tenants to “lunatics [taking] over the asylum,” it holds up a mirror to modern life as something incomprehensibly vast and at the same time intimately small.
The same attitude is even reflected in the set. City Lit uses a fairly bare-bones arrangement here. With just a few chairs, a desk, a couple of towels, and some expressive body language, though, the talented cast takes us from a basement locker room to a moonlit rooftop at the drop of a hat.
Intertwined Stories Explore Communities
There are two main plotlines at work in this show. If just one draws you in, you’ll have a fine time; if both do, you’ll laugh out loud and head home with something to think about.
The first revolves around newly hired janitor Ed Dorfman (gamely played by Robert Vignisson) reconnecting with old high school friend Demetra Marrs (a vivacious Tara Bouldrey), now living in one of the very apartments Ed helps maintain. The second follows building manager Alice Biasco (in a pitch-perfect performance by Annie Hogan) as she deals with an endless onslaught of building-related problems.
Taking a vacation from years of incremental progress on a doctoral thesis by throwing himself into a menial job (“The posting was for unskilled labor, and I am nothing if not unskilled”), Ed is enchanted by the meaningfulness he sees in Demetra’s life working to build a sustainable city out in Arizona. She, in turn, is intrigued by the still-curious philosopher that the boy she once had a crush on has grown into. In less skillful hands, their relationship could easily rehash the tired Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope; but while certain patterns of romantic comedies are observed, City Lit’s production thankfully allows Demetra room for character development of her own and doesn’t let Ed off the hook for his mopey myopia.
The second, though at first blush more traditionally farcical, ends up even more engaging. Ms. Biasco struggles to handle the million-and-one things going wrong at 1330, assuage the concerns of condo board president (the unctuous Scott Olson), survive a series of unhinged attacks by disgruntled residents--and get to the bottom of who’s been breaking into apartments and stealing women’s undergarments.
Comedy, right? To a point.
Although Biasco’s trials and tribulations are mostly played for laughs, there is a current of tension, of desperation, that underscores her every seen and sticks with you after the play has ended. As she herself wonders about the people she serves: “Did they come into the building insane, or did it make them insane?”
Top pick for: Fans of Neil Simon, Noël Coward, and How I Met Your Mother
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Now through May 28
Fridays @ 7:30PM
Saturdays @ 7:30PM
Sundays @ 3:00PM
*No performance on Easter Sunday (4/16)
2 Special Monday Performances:
May 15 and May 22 @ 7:30PM
Edgewater Presbyterian Church, Second Floor
1020 W. Bryn Mawr
Chicago, IL 60660
Full Price $32.00
Online at www.citylit.org
Photos: Austin Oie
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.