Regional Reviews: Chicago
Detective Partner Hero Villain
Of course, that said, it's also in a typical store-front theater, with not a lot of seating. So get your tickets early.
The look is seedy 1970s crime story, but with a superhero (the super-handsome Sam Guinan-Nyhart) and a ruthless killer (the ultra-clever Tim Parker) thrown in, to keep a pair of grizzled detectives on their toes.
But there are the clues of the story, and then there are clues of all our stories, dribbled out along the way, as the hilariously heroic Fantastic Phenomenon appeals to his detective ally for an ounce of humanity, now and then: to relieve the crushing burden of his own impossible idealism. (There's a clue for you, right there.)
John Wilson is the detective, who has a long history of solving crimes with the help of a dazzling array of superheroes. But on opening night, not only did Mr. Wilson have to contend with the neediness of a granite-jawed superhero and a delightfully devilish killer, but with one big theatrical problem in his own office too, which I sincerely hope (for his sake) will be fixed in the coming days. The final drama Wilson faces in the end packed twice as much impact for me, thanks to that earlier problem (which was clearly not of his own making). But by the time you read this, it should be a very smooth production, entirely.
Marc Rita is his partner, and really looks the part. On the night in question, he came into his own in the last ten or twenty minutes (of this hour-long play), helping the detective solve a string of brutal murders (and a whole lot more), just as the story developed a half dozen surprising new twists and turns.
Mr. Guinan-Nyhart is a deadpan riot, trying to be more than just a comic book crusader, and Mr. Parker is truly fantastic in his own right, as one of those pulp-fiction killers with hair to match. Brett Neveu, the playwright, looks deep into our own fascination with characters who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and, in the end, he shows how twisting reality like bars of steel may actually produce a heat and light all its own.
Lovely, smooth direction from Gus Menary, along with an excellent superhero costume from Aly Renee Amidei, and an intriguingly acrid, gritty feeling from everyone else on hand. A big hit in a little package.
Through December 17, 2013, at the Hugen Hall Theatre, upstairs in the StrawDog space, 3829 North Broadway. For more information visit www.strawdog.org.