Total Rating: 
April 2, 2017
Route 66 Theater Company
Theater Type: 
The Den
Theater Address: 
1333 North Milwaukee Avenue

Vernon Jenkins is a newspaper correspondent, and Oona Del Negro is a documentary filmmaker. He is armed with a laptop and all the latest apps; she packs old-school analog photography equipment. We are never told the location of this "large foreign city" where they have arrived, though their wardrobe hints at a warm climate. Neither of them knew that they would be sharing a single hotel room (boasting fridge, coffee-maker and minibar) registered under married-couple aliases, where they wait for an informant claiming to possess government secrets of interest to U.S security. Vernon is there to learn what these are, and Oona, to interview the purveyor thereof.

Playgoers dazzled by the spookspeak jargon and ripped-from-the-headlines references (Wikileaks!) may look to such superficial classroom-classics as No Exit or Waiting for Godot for a lens through which to view a scenario characterized by a low-level terror as nebulous as it is demoralizing. More sophisticated theatergoers may detect in Gabriel McKinley's drama-of-paranoia a dynamic resembling that of The Dumbwaiter, Harold Pinter's thriller tracing the psychological disintegration of two bored hit-men on a stakeout beset by cryptic dispatches taking on ominous portent.

To be sure, our roving reporters are hardly prisoners — Vernon may have stashed his satellite phone in the freezer upon arrival, but there's still the in-house switchboard, room service brings them meals and clean towels, their quarry sends occasional messages, sometimes accompanied by playful gifts. Oona even has hard-copy transcripts and letters signed by their elusive prey. Both are free to leave the room and walk outside. Their reluctance to do so is initially based in their eagerness to be first at scooping a career-making story but soon blossoms into full-blown mistrust of one another's motives — especially after evidence surfaces of unseen observers closing in on their refuge.

The panoptical dystopia literary genre dates back to George Orwell, making it easy in 2017 for director Jason Grace to tap into a familiar identification with his play's rats-in-a-cage premise.

Within the environment assembled by Route 66's meticulous technical team — a luxurious cell so starkly chic that the slightest ambient noise in the Den's intimate studio takes on significance — Cody Proctor and Kristina Valada-Viars tease their roles out with an unhurried deliberation heightening our anticipation of something, anything, to alleviate the paralytic dread born of covert surveillance in our web-happy age.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 3/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
March 2017