Playwright: Laura Jacqmin. At: the side project ( sic ) , 1439 W. Jarvis. Phone: 773-973-2150; $12. Runs through: Dec. 16
Young Laura Jacqmin is an extremely hot playwright just now, with awards and productions across the country and two current commissions from Chicago theaters. As I'm unfamiliar with her work, I wanted to have a look.
Although a world premiere, Butt Nekkid isn't necessarily brand-new. More a study in character and structure than a wholly complete work, it struck me as something perhaps remaining from Jacqmin's student days or something that, at least, began then. The young heroine of this three-character work might easily be a semi-autobiographical voice of the author herself.
Running 90 minutes, Butt Nekkid opens with a scene that's chronologically from later in the play, and closes with a scene of indeterminate time. In between, it skips about in time. Some individual scenes are deftly theatrical, with effective speech that's pithy rather than poetic, but the overall structure is confusing. I could figure out what, where and when ( except for the mysterious final scene ) , but I didn't understand Jacqmin's purpose for breaking the chronology.
Her focus really is on character and there, too, her choices aren't perfectly clear. Set in Los Angeles, Butt Nekkid concerns African-American hip-hop artist Lawrence, who works for Marty, an observant Jewish recording company executive. Lawrence soon shacks with Marty's sexually aggressive 20-year-old daughter, Sarah, culminating in a pregnancy. Meanwhile, Marty and Sarah's unseen mother are divorcing.
The characters are interesting but not fully realized. For instance, Jacqmin goes out of her way to create Lawrence as a soft-spoken and shy young man vs. standard hip-hop stereotype. But the play really isn't about Lawrence, hip-hop or the recording industry. It's about cultural boundaries in personal and professional relationships, and has more to do with conservative Jewish thought than anything else. It makes no matter that Lawrence is Black or an artist, but only that he's different. Even Sarah's pregnancy, something of vital importance, doesn't emerge as the play's central issue because it never engages all three characters. Marty never knows. Indeed, the crucial relationship between Sarah and her father is insufficiently developed to provide a firm dramatic base. Jacqmin has addressed weighty dramatic subjects ( and good for her ) that she cannot adequately explore in a work of such limited length and dramatic scope. She certainly has the material for a bigger play.
Actors Michael Pogue ( Lawrence ) , Naomi Hummel ( Sarah ) and Will Kinnear ( Marty ) are right for their roles, but director Gina LoPiccolo has drained dynamics from their performances. Because the venue is tiny, their speech and most emotions are tiny. But all theater is presentational and requires attack and size. Reining in emotions to fit the space is false economy because it diminishes the play. Fabulous paisley dress and stiletto heels for Hummel!