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 gamethe 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.
Photo: Amanda Clifford