In Arabia We'd All Be Kings
An excellent ensemble effort, the Steep Theatre production features eleven actors in thirteen roles, including the uproarious Rinska Prestinary as a young girl who can't quite get it right as a newly minted working-girl, and Jonathan Edwards as a young man whose willingness to surrender to any scheme pushes him into worthless antiquity before our very eyes. His final scene with Michael Salinas (as Lenny) is a perfect theatrical moment, with silences that open up the craggy vistas of the merchandised soul.
Caroline Neff is alternately childlike and horrifying as a young crackhead: first funny, then tragic, then off-handedly evil, schooling Ms. Prestinary in the ways of the street. Their scene together, imagining life on a plain old cross-country road trip, arouses extreme pathos. Her meek finagling for snack money from D'Wayne Taylor (as a sort of gay Sidney Greenstreet) is one of the jewels of purest humiliation in the show, followed (and trumped!) by Mr. Taylor's ghastly seduction of Mr. Edwards (as Skank).
Probably as a balm, I best remember the funnier moments, which include DeMaris (Ms. Prestinary) with her mother (Mari Stratton) fighting in the bar where most of the action takes place. But even the younger woman's inherent comic abilities lead us down a K-hole of gloom when she extracts some soul-destroying personal information from the recently imprisoned Lenny (Mr. Salinas) at the point of a gun. Peter Moore finds unexpected humor as Vic, interviewing Lenny for a job handing out credit card applications on the street. His dialog is littered with trite catch phrases and buzz words, delivered with a world-weariness that impresses only the newly released convict.
Sean Bolger may have the hardest job of all, playing the 'nice guy' in the rat's nest, as a bartender who keeps the frictions among patrons down to a dull roar. But even he gets a surprising added dimension after one of the characters dies, and he exacts revenge (in a Darth Vader mask) on the fellow he blames. With his character, Charlie, and the wild young DeMaris, it seems that childlike innocence is the best defense against a world of woe.
Through February 21, 2009, at 1115 West Berwyn, immediately east of the Red Line train station, on Chicago's north side. For information visit www.steeptheatre.com or call (312) 458-0722.