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Theater: Suspension Of Disbelief
2004-07-07

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Playwright: John Linton Roberson

At: Theater O' The Absurd at the Chicago Actor's Studio, 1567 N.

Milwaukee Ave.

Phone: (773) 419-5001; $12-$15

Runs through: July 11

BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE

'I'm thrilled that ... I finally get to inflict this truly evil play upon you, the innocent public,' says playwright John Linton Roberson in the promotion for this Theatre O' The Absurd production. Written in 1989, the text reveals its age through its references ('Can't we do this by FAX?' pleads a character, e-mail being as yet the stuff of science fiction). Bret Ellis Easton and Three's Company are also mentioned. Youthful exuberance is likewise reflected in a scenario featuring anti-establishment values, cartoon-broad characters, salty language, gratuitous violence, loud offstage noises and people saying 'Shut Up!' a lot.

But Roberson was no Billy Birmingham, despite Suspension Of Disbelief's homage to Torso Theatre (an actor's resumé lists Isadora Duncan Sleeps With The Russian Navy). Though every American dramatist's canon eventually includes a show-business-is-full-of-greedheads diatribe, the Roberson of 15 years ago was a rube writing for other rubes, the targets of his mockery—drama critics, literary agents, actors, directors, lawyers, movie producers, career women—overxeroxed copies of philistines portrayed in greater detail by artists intimately acquainted with the enemy. At its roots, Suspension of Disbelief is little different from its own McGuffin—a script steeped in the adolescent male fantasies of a proudly self-centered hero with an unyielding sense of entitlement and a tendency to whine when thwarted.

Roberson serves his material no better as a director, encouraging otherwise capable actors to a frenzied hysteria that depletes their energies—and ours—too quickly for a show with a 105-minute first act. Some of the performers—notably, Pepper Giese, Brian Sichelle and Greg Moonen—infuse their shallow personae with a modicum of depth through sheer technique. But their efforts cannot redeem a venture ill-advised from the outset, where half the audience on the night I attended were company 'plants' mandated by the author's play-within-a-play narrative conceit (another generic rite of passage).

'This isn't theatre! This is WAR!' declares our protagonist. But to proceed into battle with outmoded weapons is to court failure. And in THAT lesson lies the sole justification for exhumation of this classroom exercise.


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