By: Will Kern
At: The Raven Theatre, 6157 N Clark St. Tickets: WeAreTheAgency.org; pay-what-you-can ( suggested $20 donation ) . Runs through: Dec. 30
Hellcab is not typical Christmas fare.
Sure, it takes place at Christmastime, and characters talk a lot about snow is coming to the Windy City. But The Agency Collective's holiday revival of its 2017 "woman cab driver dealing with awful people" production mixes urban anxiety and isolation with seasonal hope, and the creative team does not much care about the audience's comfort with that cocktail. Though well performed, Will Kern's cynical, episodic script does not stand up to much scrutiny, or guarantee anyone a merry Christmas.
We follow the unnamed cab driver ( Regina Linn ) from the start to the end of her shift on one freezing December day. Over the course of several hours, she deals with a cavalcade of odd passengers, including a pregnant woman ( Delysa Richards ) and her remarkably patient husband ( George Ellzey Jr. ), a cokehead ( Adam Mengesha ) and his drunken date ( Audrey Gladson ), an accordion player ( Kate Jacobsen ), squabbling friends ( Gin To and Lynnette Li ), and in one hilarious instance, a bored lawyer ( Tricia Rogers ) who wants to be called "Sugar Mama." It's a long day, unexpected dangers pop up, and the cab driver is worn out by everything she witnesses.
Director Cordie Nelson has a good handle on the dynamics of interacting with strangers in a confined space. Scenic designer Elyse Balogh puts a whole car onstage, and Ellie Humphrys' lights create stoplights and darkened side streets easily. The cab driver carries a baseball bat with her, and while it never comes out, the audience understands why she might want to use it, as fare after fare invades her personal space. The driver can get the actors climbing in the backseat where they need to go, but the energy and unspoken tension they bring into her space is palpable and given time to develop. Perhaps too much time. Nelson allows organic moments to stretch out in Kern's script, but that often leads to copious amount of silence that slowly drain all conflict and danger from a scene.
Kern's script was based on his own experiences as a cab driver, but the scenes do not amount to much of a whole. The cab driver's gender adds an unusual edge to the nastiness encountered, as a woman will always need to keep her guard up in the big bad city. But the profundity that Kern reaches for after blasting us with weirdness and ugliness is too pat and shortly explored for any production to feel satisfying. The cab driver may not have a happy holiday, but at least Kern could have given her a more meaningful long's day journey into night.