The North Star. Playwright: Anthony Ellison. At: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, 1422 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets: 800-838-3006 or www.cicomedy.com; $15. Runs through: Oct. 13
What Was Mine to Do. Playwright: Dustin Spence. At: Strangeloop Theatre at Side Project
Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. Tickets: 773-757-6689 or www.strangelooptheatre.org; $10-$15. Runs through: Oct. 7
The world-premiere plays The North Star at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy and Strangeloop Theatre's What Was Mine to Do both suffer from conversely different problems. With The North Star, the casting and director let the playwright down while in What Was Mine to Do, the cast does its utmost to make a very scrambled play work.
In a work likely inspired by the loopy plays of Christopher Durang, Anthony Ellison's The North Star focuses on a home-schooled and sullen 14-year-old named Isaac (a way-too-old Volen Iliev in a passionless performance) who gets caught in the marital breakdown of his parents. The dad, Gordon (a way-too-young Martin Monahan), is over-controlling and manipulative, while his alcoholic mom, Brooke (Leslie Zang), has been carrying on in a semi-adulterous relationship with a fellow grief group-therapy member, Bruce (Sean Keith), who has some dark secrets of his own.
Although Ellison's script use some tightening, The North Star already has the makings of a riotous dark comedy that could leave the audiences in constant stitches. But director Letitia Guillaud fails with her non-age-appropriate cast who never quite get the right tone or outrageousness for the piece. So many times during the performance, I kept on imagining how many of the laugh lines would land better with a cast with better comic timing.
As for Strangeloop's What Was Mine to Do, there's very little to complain about when it comes to the acting company under Doug Long's direction. The fault lies with Dustin Spence's muddled script.
The play concerns a young, hotshot Chicago TV news editor named Claire (Kate Black-Spence) who spars with her boss, Candice (Denise Blank), and demanding news anchor, Thomas (Matthew Lloyd).
The play also focuses on U.S. hostages in Afghanistan: the imbedded reporter Frank (Colin Reeves) and the wounded soldier Staff Sgt. Antonio Cruz (Andy Quijano), who both apparently have something to learn from their captorsthe very articulate Dadulla (Monnie Aleahmad) and Kamil (Gustavo Obregon).
Just how Spence ties these two worlds in his play is tenuous at best and full of plot holes. (Claire's source that alerts her to Frank's captivity is never revealed, nor does anyone pressure her to find out who it is.) Instead of dividing up the drama between the two settings, What Was Mine to Do possibly would have worked better if Spence focused on doing either a newsroom drama or an overseas hostage situationnot both.
At least Spence provides some good dialogue for the actors to work with, especially for Matthew Lloyd's highly strung take on news anchor Thomas and Andy Quijano's defiant outbursts as Antonio Cruz. Alas, it's not enough to pay the play a visit.