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Chicago by John Olson

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
Mary-Arrchie Theatre

Also see John's reviews of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant and High Holidays

A Christmas Carol
Kevin Stark and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia
It's New Year's Eve day and 29-year-old London advertising executive Charlie Hunt is having a very bad day. He's had a lot of them, it seems. He's in a high stress job when the company nurse recommends drug abuse so he can keep working, he has gambling debts and someone threatening to break his legs, his girlfriend has dumped him, and his mother has just been buried. This one is worse than usual, though. He loses consciousness in a subway station on the way to work, has a meltdown with one of his clients and ends the day in a discussion with the pathologist who has been examining his dead body. That last event seems to be a hallucination.

The young British playwright Fin Kennedy and director Richard Cotovsky create a nightmare of the workaholic workplace so hellish it may provide comfort to the unemployed. Charlie (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) decides his life is beyond repair and so visits a friend (Kevin Stark) who has a solution—disappear completely from his friends, family and associates, and assume a new identity. The friend (Charlie knows him as Mike, but he's currently going by the name Tom) has done that himself many times already. The play's title (and Mike's suggestions, presumably) are taken from a 1985 book of the same name by Doug Richmond. In the second act, Charlie follows Mike's instructions carefully, with unintended consequences.

Charlie's impossible and surreal world is the focus of the first act, filled with biting satire of urban life and virtuoso performances by five of the cast members who each assume three or more very different roles so distinctly there's the impression the cast is actually bigger. James Eldrenkamp is a bizarre and coarse keeper of the "lost articles" department on the London tubes before switching into costume as Charlie's very proper boss, Robert. Scott Danielson is a sympathetic co-worker and threatening enforcer for Charlie's loan shark. Kasia Januszewski makes a mysterious Russian lover for Mike, Yvetsye; Kristina Johnson is a wicked corporate nurse; and Britni Tozzi is Charlie's co-worker as well as an ex.

Cotovsky has these and other characters flurry frantically around William Anderson's fluid set of rollaway pieces and a wall of windows. At the center of it all, Garcia ably shows Charlie's subtle progression from waking up (on a gurney) to a bad day to wishing himself dead by midnight. This doesn't leave room for too long of a journey, but Garcia uses a variety of twitches, labored breathing, vomiting and more to keep our attention focused as Charlie continues his descent. The pathologist he imagines—Sophie, whose father disappeared suddenly some years ago, is played as a calming presence by Shannon Clausen. Kevin Stark is supremely confident, controlling and charismatic as the chameleonic Mike.

After the brilliant black comedy of the first act, the pace slows for the second act, as Charlie methodically goes about assuming his new identity of Adam, a boy born around the same time as Charlie who died many years earlier. This act is not nearly as satisfying as the first. It's darker and not so funny or satiric, leading up to a conclusion that is logical but not particularly insightful. This is no fault of the director or the cast, of which there's not a weak link to be found. The problem may just lie in the concept. Witnessing a situation that leads a person to renounce their very identity is just more compelling than observing the consequences of that choice.

Still, kudos to Mary-Arrchie for bringing this new voice to Midwestern audiences and giving the author a production that would seem to realize his intentions so effectively. Even if an audience cut out before the second act, they'd see a good night of theater before they go.

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found will be performed Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through December 20th, 2009. There is no show on Thanksgiving. For tickets, call 773-871-0442 or visit www.maryarrchie.com.


Photo: Ryan Bourque

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-- John Olson



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