Monday, October 29, 2018

Too Much Time Lost in Space: At Gift, David Rabe's Ambitious 'Cosmologies' Fails to Engross at Face Value -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

by David Rabe
directed by Michael Patrick Thornton
The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 9

Now 78, David Rabe won a Tony Award for Best Play--1972's Sticks and Bones--at the age of 32.

Over the next 13 years, three more Tony nominations--for In the Boom Boom Room, Streamers and Hurlyburly--would follow, and Rabe also had some success as a screenwriter.

So it was a pretty big deal when Rabe worked with Chicago's esteemed but intimate--approx. 50 seats in a Jefferson Park storefront--Gift Theatre to premiere his 2015 play, Good for Otto.

I liked but didn't quite love that drama focusing on mental health treatment, in part because its 3-hour runtime felt unwieldy.

I didn't see Rabe's Visiting Edna, which premiered at Steppenwolf in 2016, but was happy to be back at the Gift for the opening of Cosmologies, cited as a Midwest Premiere, though I haven't found articles about past productions elsewhere.

With due deference to Mr. Rabe, the Gift, artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton--who serves as the show's director--and the performers, I can't say that I much enjoyed or understood Cosmologies.

Photo credit on all: Claire Demos
Certainly, it is an ambitious piece, not only seemingly about memory and family--in an abstract way--but broaching on physics, religion, young lust and much more.

And admittedly, I struggle with plays that are long--Cosmologies clocks in at about 2 hours and 45 minutes without clear narrative justification--and especially non-linear, absurdist and/or surrealist works.

But other than observing the scars combative parents can inflict on their kids--and even that's a matter of vague interpretation--I really can't gauge what I was to derive from the play.

It begins with two high school friends, Eric (Kenny Mihlfried) and Milt (Gregory Fenner), who have drunkenly come to a Chicago hotel room from their Wisconsin hometown.

A phone call made to ascertain the date results in the arrival of a surly pimp, Richard (James D. Farruggio), and a wary but seemingly kindhearted prostitute, Teddy (Darci Nalepa, good here as she was in Northlight's Cry It Out).

Richard leaves the room, as has Milt, but soon returns to intercede harshly and injure Eric.

At which point, sans a visit from Rod Serling, things seem to enter the Twilight Zone.

Ostensibly still in the same hotel room but feeling more like a dysfunctional family home, Eric, Teddy and Richard share the same space, but seemingly in a completely different time, dimension and situation.

...accompanied by an escaped convict (John Kelly Connolly) who shows up for some reason that wasn't fully clear to me.

But then, rather little was.

Moment to moment, there were some nice scenes, with a tenderness between Mihlfried and Nalepa, and Farruggio feeling like George Clooney gone bad.

And certainly, there was some deft language from Rabe.

My companion, a bit better versed in matters of science and spirituality, appreciated the depth of thought the playwright tried to work into Cosmologies, but he agreed that at face value, it was confusing and not nearly engrossing enough to justify the length.

Obviously, there is no absolute delineation between good and bad, great and "eh," and especially with the pedigree not only Rabe brings, but Gift and Thornton as well, I won't dare make such a definitive value judgment about Cosmologies.

But it largely left me lost in space, and--while grateful for the opportunity to check it out--didn't provide enough of a fulfilling time. 

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

Good review of a difficult to review play.