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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER Versailles
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2003-05-21

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{Playwright: Ben Byer

At: Dolled Up Productions at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport

Phone: ( 773 ) 902-1500; $17

Runs through: June 15}

Ben Byer's Take It Deep, premiering in 2000, proposed four oddballs—a foul-mouthed braggart, a palefaced hip-hopper, a passive babe and an ambivalent henchman with tourette's syndrome—in the business of selling frozen meat. Byer's new play, Versailles, likewise presents us with a cluster of inept criminals in pursuit of the Capitalist Dream—the product this time, an internet skinflick-site—but in neither play is Byer attacking the plan or the planners so much as he is the social conditions that make such schemes conceivable.

The condition, in this case, is the stock-market crash that pitched countless citizens from sudden wealth into equally sudden poverty, the Charcuts of Lake Forest among them. Former CEO Carl now earns his living as a security guard at Walgreen's, his anger at this perceived humiliation simmering just below the surface. Wife Claire drifts in a drug-induced twilight, busying herself with endless redecorating ( that peculiar refuge of suburban matrons ) and paranoid fantasies of home invasion—the first pastime abetted by a Zen-poet housepainter and the second, by a straitlaced young constable. Daughter Donna keeps to her room, wallowing in sullen depression.

Into this volatile mix drops ne'er-do-well son Rufus, recently busted for operating an online-sex Web site on college-owned computers. Soon the money is rolling in, thanks to Donna's melancholy soliloquies, delivered fully clothed, under the name 'Moaning Lisa.' No one lies down with pigs without getting muddy, however, and soon even the Charcuts' daily lives are infected by the pornotopian ethic.

For a play about cheap rumpy-bumpy, the live action in Versailles includes remarkably little sim-sex, depiction of The Goods falling mostly to the photo-tech team of Karen Hoyt, Nadine Heidinger, Fuzzy Gerdes and Kelly Nichols. Under Kirk Anderson's direction, the cast acts up a storm, with Eric Johnson delivering a Wagnerian performance as the slimy Rufus and Darryl Warren contributing some nicely subdued moments as the family patriarch stubbornly denying the source of his new prosperity. Still lacking on opening night, however, were cohesive personalities with individual psychologies to shape their eccentric behavior. We need to know what makes these people tick if Byer's exposé is to escape being as exploitive as the practices it would criticize.


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