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Chicago by John Olson

Mimesophobia
Theatre Seven of Chicago
Guest Reviewer: Richard Green

Also see John's reviews of Rent and A Separate Peace

Mimesophobia
Cyd Blakewell (foreground) with Brian Golden and Jessica Thigpen
"Mimesophobia" is defined as the "morbid fear of slavish imitation," but that doesn't begin to capture the morbid fear that dilates the intertwined scenes here, and the fear in our minds, at what playwright Carlos Murillo has come up with. He collides about a half-a-dozen different storytelling styles, till (by the process of prying each one away) we see an unnerving darkness at the center of the modern soul. Hidden behind the narrators, with their unctuous "news magazine" style; beyond the generation gap of a daughter breaking away from her mother; beneath the ravenous desire for success and the bizarre fascination with grisly crime, is a kind of terror that only an expert storyteller can achieve.

Somehow, in the plotline, a closed-loop has formed between a group of people who participate in the retelling of a coed's murder and the subsequent drive to capture the nightmare as entertainment, leading us down the road (it seems) to another, similar murder. The cast on stage is perfectly balanced in talent and wit, and director Margot Bordelon keeps them all bouncing and colliding off one-another for nearly two hours. There are strange, funny moments that could slip right by unnoticed, and strange, horrible moments that got big laughs on the night the critics came to watch.

But that's the risk you run when you "paper the house," giving out free tickets to friends of the show, to create a mood of success in the entertainment business: and here, the laughter from some of those "friends" erupts so frequently that one might begin to wonder if this particular playwright has cleverly turned them into pawns in his own game—the game of success in "the Industry" itself, where an author's statement is often incomplete until the production gets a laugh-track that barely skates along the surface. Maybe he and director Bordelon should bring back that same "claque" every night. It's creepier by far when they treat it all as snarky comedy.

The most bizarre sequence on stage involves actress Cyd Blakewell, who dazzles us by describing a music hall magician's trick gone horribly awry. But each of the actors gets a lovely little turn, from the glitzy narrators (Brian Golden and Jessica Thigpen) who also morph into a talk show host and a believably daffy, confused mother, to the would-be screenwriters (Brian Stojak and Michael Salinas), whose over-caffeinated enthusiasm reminds us that some 100,000 eager young people flock to Hollywood every year to strike it rich. And Cassandra Sanders is just as much a wild-card as the rest, as the tremulous sister of a murder victim whose hidden desires are more than a match for the others who strain for glory.

The whole production is lovingly thought out, with perhaps a passing resemblance to the recent play [title of show] or the movies Synecdoche, New York and Inland Empire, or even Network. But playwright Murillo succeeds entirely on his own terms, turning the concept of current modern entertainment into something incalculably strange.

Mimesophobia through April 4, 2010 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 West Chicago (at Milwaukee), enter around back. For more information visit www.theatreseven.org or call (773) 853-3158.

Cast
Shawn: Cyd Blakewell
Man Who Speaks ... Brian Golden
Henry: Michael Salinas
Cassy: Cassandra Sanders
Aaron: Brian Stojak
Woman Who Speaks ... Jessica Thigpen

Crew
Director: Margot Bordelon
Scenic Designer: John Wilson
Light Design: Justin Wardell
Sound Design: Miles Polaski
Costume Design: Katie Cordts and Whitney McBride
Properties Design: Sarah Burnham
Composer: Chance Bone
Stage Manager: Taylor Fenderbosch

Photo: Amanda Clifford

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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