Total Rating: 
November 19, 2017
A Red Orchid Theater
Theater Type: 
A Red Orchid Theater
Theater Address: 
1531 North Wells Street
Wallace Shawn

It's been said that the most ruthless murderers are doctors-gone-bad, since "they have the knowledge and they have the nerve." Wallace Shawn presents us with another occupation endowing its representatives with an abundance of nerve, needing only the knowledge to apply it. They're not who you think they are, either.

Talk House is the name of an urban after-hours cocktail lounge, its sleek art-deco ambience reflecting its history as a refuge for theater people, while the rumble of traffic overhead lends an atmosphere of cozy seclusion akin to that of a bunker. Ten years ago, Robert's last play premiered—a Celtic-myth epic chronicling the wars necessary to bring peace to barbaric tribes, its modest success redeemed by the acclaim it received from a certain politician now risen to power. A decade later, the entertainment industry is dominated by television programs featuring copious violence, and live performance is all but nonexistent, but tonight, the artists associated with our narrator's swan song have reunited at their former watering-hole.

The conversation initially centers around the "whatever-happened-to" reminiscences typical of such gatherings, but shared anecdotes soon give way to a discussion of side jobs undertaken to supplement shrinking incomes. Prominent among these are the processing of surveys purporting to identify citizens displaying antisocial tendencies, so that those afflicted may be proactively executed. Young people also have the option of enrolling in classes providing training in the "humane" euthanasia of the elderly and ill by means of biotoxins—oh, and aren't these hors d'oeuvres scrumptious?

Shawn's assessment of his peers may be exaggerated—or, at least, confined to specific coastal regions—but in an increasingly competitive society, who hasn't contemplated the advantages of decreasing the surplus population on the basis of continued productivity (as in "so what have you done LATELY?"), especially when doing so comes with a paycheck.

Actors fainter of heart and stomach than those assembled by Shade Murray for this Red Orchid production could easily succumb to the safety of cheap laughs. The reputation of the ensemble affiliated with this cloistered storefront playhouse, however, was built on its willingness to send audiences home with skin crawling after exposure to the amoral denizens of an ugly universe—in this case, reminding us that the casual vilification that we too often dismiss as harmless gossip may have far more ominous consequences than we imagine.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 11/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
October 2017