Sunday, February 23, 2020

Not Your Plain Ol' Sisters: Existential Tonality Makes It Hard for Me to Reach 'Plano' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

a new play by Will Arbery
directed by Audrey Francis
First Floor Theater
at Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 28

Sometimes it happens.

I see a show I don't much care for and am compelled to say so, having been invited--literally--to share my opinion.

Over the years, I think you will find that the vast majority of shows I see and review--be they plays, musicals, concerts, operas, ballets, comedians, magicians, etc.--are ones I truly enjoyed.

On my @@@@@ Seth Saith rating, I'm guessing all the theatrical performances I've reviewed would average at least @@@@.

This actually might seem excessively positive, but even in now being invited to most theater I attend, the majority is put on by venerated troupes, usually of works that have been acclaimed elsewhere.

I do occasionally like "taking a flier" on a piece I've never heard of, perhaps by an upstart theater company. Surprises can be sensational.

And though I'm far from a huge influencer, as a "critic" the only fair thing to theaters, the press agents that directly invite me and readers is to give my candid assessment of any show I see.

Yet I have too much regard for the whims of taste, my own proclivities and the estimable talent & efforts of anyone who delivers any type of public performance to presume that I am "right."

Or that what I say should unilaterally determine what shows others may see or avoid.

I do what I do with integrity, a fair amount of wherewithal--I've written over 500 theater reviews for this blog--and presumably some ego, but I relish someone saying: "I saw that show you didn't like and think you were dead wrong; it was fantastic."

I love theater and want everyone to love whatever they see.

I just didn't love Plano, a recent play by Will Arbery, now being staged in Chicago by First Floor Theater as part of Steppenwolf's Lookout Series.

The one-act dramedy ran Off-Broadway in New York last year, and I've noted some strong reviews, others more lukewarm.

Here it is being directed by Audrey Francis, a Steppenwolf Ensemble Member who's done some fine acting work at several local theaters.

And I have only good things to say about the performers, including Elizabeth Birnkrant, Ashley Neal and Amanda Fink who play sisters named Anne, Genevieve and Isabel. (Supposedly there is some allusion to Chekhov's Three Sisters, but I've never seen or read it.)

Let me here candidly admit that I often don't well-embrace plays that are abstract, surreal, avant
garde, etc., and while I can hail some originality in Arbery's writing style--which repeatedly references something happening "later," and then instantly jumps to "it's now later" rather humorously--the tonality certainly didn't abet my affinity.

Certainly, I tried to go with it, and beyond the oddities appreciate the scenarios regarding the sisters and their respective men, who frequently seem to be "going to Plano" metaphorically in terms of not doing right by the women.

Without divulging too much of even the parts I understood, elder sister Anne is married to Juan (Chris Acevedo), who also goes by John, and may or may not be gay.

Middle sister Genevieve's husband Steve (Andrew Cutler) is so untoward she appears to imagine him as two different people.

Isabel gets mixed up with a Faceless Ghost (Andrew Lund), while I won't reveal how a character listed in the program as Mary (Janice O'Neal) factors in.

There is some existential angst at play, and seemingly righteous condemnation of our patriarchal society, but neither the narrative nor overarching themes much resonated with me.

At least not acutely.

I won't belabor the problems I had with Plano, as many are hard to specify.

Maybe because of the structure and tone, or maybe for reasons well beyond it, I just didn't find myself much caring.

Out of respect, deference and vagaries of predilection, I won't say that Plano is bad, or even not worth your while.

I will merely say that I didn't really like it.

Sometimes it happens.

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

Politest negative review I've seen in a long time.