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Chicago by John Olson

Wrecks
Profiles Theatre

Also see John's review of Once


John Judd
Profiles continues their exploration of the work of Neil LaBute with the Midwest premiere of this one-man, one-act play, which had its world premiere in Dublin, Ireland, in 2005 and its American premiere in New York the next year. It makes sense that Profiles waited to produce it until their 10 previous productions of LaBute plays built an appetite for the playwright's work. Marketing this show as a "LaBute play" is pretty much the only way to market it because to say what it's really about would entirely spoil it.

Here's what we can say. Wrecks is a look into the mind of a grieving widower, Edward Carr, at the wake of his late wife Mary Jo. Edward has ducked into a side room of the funeral home to get away from crowds at the visitation. He addresses the audience in a way that could be a (very one-sided) conversation with an unseen friend—or maybe he's just talking to himself. His thoughts are non-linear, as they logically and naturally would be in this circumstance. In between Edward's reflections on topics like his smoking, we learn the facts of his life and of his late wife's life. He was abandoned as an infant and met his wife at age 25. She was 15 years his senior, in a loveless marriage she agreed to only to get away from her domineering mother. The two built a successful business—a car rental company specializing in classic vehicles. And he tells of the auto accident they narrowly survived on a road trip. Through it all, he explains how deeply he loved her, in an unabashedly Joycean, stream-of-consciousness manner. (Appropriate, given the play's world premiere in Dublin, and surely intentional based on LaBute's description of Mary Jo as Irish-American. And, that the play is set at a wake. Finnegan's Wake anyone?).

It's a bit of a challenge to go on this journey given the non-linear structure and the fact that Edward is not all that likable. He's coarse, distraught and a bit angry. You suspect he wasn't necessarily that easy a guy to get along with even before Mary Jo's death. While you're sorry for his loss, I don't know that anyone in the audience would invite him out for a beer afterwards.

John Judd plays Edward with great force. Judd's an actor of authority and presence—much in the Brian Dennehy mold. His Edward is clearly bereaved but trying to look strong to whomever it is he might be talking to. Attempts at humor alternate with breakdowns. LaBute has written him as a wholly recognizable middle-aged, Midwestern man—successful enough, but somehow feeling like an outsider. It's a convincing performance, though marred a little by Judd's habit of periodically shouting out lines. Sometimes this is for emphasis, but these shouts seemed to fall into a pattern and often felt motivated by a desire for vocal variety rather than emotions of the lines. Jason Gerace directs Judd to speak at a fast, nervous pace, which suits Edward's distraught frame of mind.

This all builds up to a surprise that isn't revealed until very, very close to the end when LaBute ambushes us and forces us to take a good honest look at something we might otherwise have avoided. We see how cleverly he dropped hints and set up his premise even without our realizing where he was taking us. Sorry I can't say more. What you hear is disturbing, but presented in a thoughtful and believable way. As I said earlier, it's a LaBute play.

Wrecks continues through November 17, 2013, at Profiles Theatre's Alley Stage, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago. Ticket information at www.profilestheatre.org and 773-549-1815.


Photo: Michael Brosilow

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-- John Olson



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