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Chicago by John Olson

Reparation by David Schulner

Reparation
Joe Jahraus and Darrell W. Cox
After the excitement of reviewing three high-profile Broadway-bound musicals, it felt time to return to the older Chicago tradition of storefront theater. Profiles is a nearly 17-year-old professional non-Equity company that performs in its own 50-seat theater in the changing Uptown neighborhood. Their MO, based on the three productions I’ve seen so far, seems to be to find new works that can benefit from their claustrophobic space and that will challenge, even discomfort, their audiences. Their Popcorn (by Ben Elton) locked us up with serial killers in the home of a Hollywood film producer, and their production of Adam Rapp’s Blackbird confined us to the depressing one-room slum apartment of a disabled Gulf War vet and his ex-stripper junkie girlfriend.

All of the action in Reparation occurs in the office of an attorney named Berman (Profiles Artistic Director Joe Jahraus) and concerns Berman’s last project for the bizarre and insanely wealthy client Randolph (Profiles Associate Artistic Director Darrell W. Cox), whom he has known since childhood. The four-person cast also includes an African man named Reezim (Sean Nix) who sits silently downstage left throughout the action and Randolph’s bodyguard/thug with the unlikely (though ultimately explained) name of Claire (Craig Degel).

The nature of Randolph’s assignment for Berman is gradually revealed, but only after a 15-minute-long speech detailing Randolph’s junior high school deflowering of himself and a classmate named Stephanie. At first, it seems that Randolph, an international businessman with holdings that apparently include mines in Africa, may have purchased a kidney from the non-English-speaking African. Unless you want to know more about the true extent of Randolph’s business relationship with Reezim, stop reading here.

We learn in the course of this 80-minute one act that Randolph is dying of an unnamed disease and is harvesting Reezim’s body, part by part, to extend his own life. Not just internal organs, but limbs and eyes, too. Randolph pays Reezim’s impoverished family for these body parts. Berman is responsible for preparing legal agreements authorizing the procedures, for making arrangements with the doctors performing the surgery and for keeping the whole affair out of the press.

The piece seems to be an allegory of the western world’s exploitation of the third world, contending that it depletes the resources of the latter in the interest of prolonging the life and lifestyle of the former, but in a manner that is not sustainable for either. It’s an arguable point, to be sure, but it hardly takes 80 minutes to make it and the result is a rather tedious play. Schulner, a writer who has had a number of pieces produced by the likes of the Long Wharf, Old Globe and the Joseph Papp Public Theater, takes little effort to make his characters more than symbols. Randolph is evil incarnate, without any redeeming features.

Though the role gives the courageous actor Darrell W. Cox an opportunity to display a range of states - arrogance, rage, and his character’s physical decline - we’re never able to have any interest in him other than fear and disgust. Joe Jahraus establishes and builds Berman’s increasing levels of anxiety over the one-act, but he doesn’t have the material to show the shading behind his character’s moral dilemma. Craig Degel, as the bodyguard Claire, provides little more than awkward comic relief. Sean Nix as Reezim has no lines but maintains a level of tension throughout, as his body parts are symbolically removed, one by one, by hiding them under the flowing robe of costume designer Lindsay Gould.

I admire the guts and bravado of this tiny company. The experience of seeing performances of the intensity they can give, so up-close and in your face, can be amazing. While Cox and his colleagues can go over the top, the proximity of the audience forces the actors to exercise restraint and stay honest at the same time. I recommend that Chicago theatergoers keep an eye on them, but if you haven’t seen them yet you may want to wait for their next production.

Reparation runs through April 24, 2005 at Profiles Theater, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. For reservations, call 773-549-1815.


Photo: Eric Burgher

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-- John Olson



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