Like other “free” theater experiences on Chicago’s stages now—most notably the Theater Y series STORIES OF THE BODY thru July 15 recently reviewed by this writer—it’s almost assured that the performance is a recommendation for our time. How can we not think that theaters that provide free seats for Chicagoans do anything but hit a home run!
And for those of us who shortlist any play that Jeff Award winning actress Echaka Agba is in—know that her performance in THE OPPORTUNITIES OF EXTINCTION absolutely does not disappoint. SPOILER ALERT: That she is not able to break out of her character’s tearful emotions by the time of the curtain call speaks volumes about her performance. Agba is one of those talented actresses that truly seems to become her role. By this writer’s lights, she is one of the top marvels in Chicago theater today.
In this story, Agba is Mel, a woman nearing 40 who is penning a novel and is in a long term relationship with Arjun (played very plausibly by Richard Costes), an academic with garden variety social media addiction that has just landed him on forced leave from his university position. Mel has convinced Arjun to take a hiatus in the Mojave Desert to get away from it all. Right from the top we learn that recent events also had some pretty significant couple challenges. Mel went missing during Arjun’s hour of need. When they bicker you know this is well-trammelled ground. Their relationship feels super-fragile and perhaps painfully familiar to anyone who has experienced a relationship moment when “let’s call the whole thing off” is in the air.
Broken Nose Theatre Chooses Script with Focus on Climate Change
Per the title, this play is also a parallel lamentation on the fragility of our planet. This theme is introduced right at the start in a long (way, way too long, by this reviewer’s lights) monologue by Georgia (played by Aria Szalai-Raymond), a 20 year old Park volunteer who has a keen interest and lots of knowledge about the near extinction of climate change-susceptible Joshua Trees. Many would describe Georgia as “on the spectrum”, and perhaps juiced by hypomania that expresses itself in a most officious way. Perhaps playwright Sam Chanse was drawing a character well-known to her, but Georgia is likely not someone many in the audience will feel they know. Szalai-Raymond gives playing this Rain Man cousin part her all, but the script may not give her a character that allows her to show her full talents.
For those of us who have read sometimes weekly lamentations in the New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winning Elizabeth Kolbert on the state of our planet with never failing interest, the long expositions on cycles of extinction in this script can feel relatively flat, and borderline droning. But, the way in which Chance zooms in on a relationship that may or may not be on its deathbed is well worth your time.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playwright: Sam Chanse
Director: company member Jen Poulin
Cast: (in alphabetical order): Echaka Agba (Mel), Richard Costes (Arjun) and Aria Szalai-Raymond (Georgia).