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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW To Catch a Fish
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-05-09

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Playwright: Brett Neveu

At: Timeline Theatre at Baird Hall, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: $40-$54; TimeLineTheatre.com; 773-281-8463. Runs through: July 1

If this scenario weren't almost all true, you'd think David Mamet plotted it.

There's these three scruffy hustlers, you see—outlaw biker Dex, tattooed skateboard-bum Ike and Pam Grier-lookalike "G"—managing a pop-up dollar-shop outlet in Milwaukee's borderline-gentrified River North district. They cajole local layabout Terry Kilbourn into, first, distributing advertising flyers for their store and, later, passing word on the street that they are looking to pay top dollar for weapons declared illegal under the increasingly severe regulations enacted at all levels of government since 1968. What could go wrong?

Plenty, we soon come to learn. The new employee is mentally impaired, the result of accidental brain damage sustained in childhood—a condition whose indications his bosses either ignore, or dismiss as normal behavior within his social demographic. Anyhow, the whole scheme is merely camouflage for a sting operation initiated by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Dex and Ike are federal agents and G, an officer with the city police. Their goal—the impounding of stray guns—is noble enough, but neither they, nor their amoral assistant's kinfolk, are prepared for the unexpected zeal they will apply to their duties.

Brett Neveu's narrative follows the real-life documentation that Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge supplied to forge an adequately linear line of action. The author's focus is not on procedural implemented by heroic big shots, however, but instead the collateral damage inflicted on bystanders driven by poverty and misfortune to set aside their suspicions of strangers promising rewards designed to encourage the very criminal activity it purports to disparage.

Ron OJ Parsons directs an ensemble exercising commendable restraint to inhabit their midsized-city personae to the smallest stereotype-free nuance—in particular, Geno Walker, who ramps down the classroom Mice-and-Men mummery to keep the visible boundaries of Terry's cognitive powers reliant on the perceptions of outsiders whose motives ( as Neveu reminds us repeatedly ) suffer ambiguities unacknowledged even by their owners. In the end, nobody has died, but neither has anybody gained anything by their experience. Indeed, the lesson we take away from Neveu's parable is that decisions based in "jobs that make you choose to lie" engender losses only serving to reinforce the dynamics of bitterness and despair.


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