By: Kareem Bandealy
At: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets: Lookingglasstheatre.org; $40-$75. Runs through: April 7
Questions about existence and the nature of creation lie at the heart of Kareem Bandealy's Act( s ) of God, now in its world premiere at Lookingglass Theatre, where he serves as an ensemble member.
The production presents many questions and employs an impressive amount of theatrical tools to explore one family's spiritual crisisbut the shifting tones of Bandealy's script left me confused and asking finally what was being said about God and the world.
The kids are coming home to Father ( Rom Barkhordar ) and Mother's ( Shannon Cochran ) for a visit in the year 2029, but all is not well. The Eldest ( Kristina Valada-Viars ) is a black sheep who no longer believes in God or her family's close bonds. The Middle ( Anthony Irons ) is bringing home his Fiancee ( Emjoy Gavino ), with whom he has a performative, strained relationship. The Youngest ( Walter Briggs ) is tired of being treated as a know-nothing kid, though in truth, he has questioned very little in the past. Relations become more frustrated when the family receives an announcement that God is coming to dinner.
One would assume events would only get stranger from there and, in Heidi Stillman's direction, there are hints of the off-kilter world Bandealy spends the first act winking at in his long three-act play. But Bandealy has given Stillman a script that starts as comedy, escalates to absurdity, then downshifts into gritty relationship drama, before transforming into a Brechtian statement about ... existence, I guess? This is Bandealy's first play, and it feels like he wanted to cram as much theatrical exploration as he could into its structure, but that stranded Stillman between acting styles and landed the actors in a soup of questions without clear dramatic consequences.
There is valuable experimentation here, particularly when the characters begin to speak in overlapping monologues as if they are speaking in tongues. Barkhordar is a great center of solid belief; Cochran's flagrant unhappiness earned a lot of laughs at the performance I attended, and Gavino squares off nicely with her in dueling speeches.
Mara Blumenfeld's costume design is exceptional, making every cast member look great and marking out who they are characters. Amanda Herrmann has fun designing technology for 10 years in the future, and Rick Sims' sampling of songs during intermission was fun and cheeky.
I am not sure what I was supposed to walk away from this play thinking. But I will say more Chicago theater should ask big questions and take big swings in exploring the mysteries that surround us.