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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Theater: Evolution
2007-08-15

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Playwright: Jonathan Marc Sherman

At: MOB Productions at Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln

Phone: 773-871-3000; $16

Runs through: Sept 16

BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE

Fundamentally, what we have is a second-generation Hollywood-is-full-of-greedheads play, a genre dating from the dawn of cinema, in which an earnest young playwright, usually from New York, seeks his fortune in the City Of Angels and is shocked—shocked!—to discover the genuine tinsel hidden beneath the phony tinsel. If you can identify the two quotations in that last sentence—drawn from Oscar Levant and Casablanca, respectively—you're already way ahead of Evolution's author.

Our hero, this time, is a Harvard grad student at a crisis after completing his thesis on Charles Darwin, the 19th-century scientist whose theory of natural selection purports to explain life on our planet as we know it, in opposition to the Christian myth of divine creation. On a visit to his fiancée's family, however, the ambivalent scholar falls under the spell of her amphetamine-munching brother, who introduces the scholarly innocent to the power of mass communication. The result is a television sitcom, originally titled Evolution, but quickly re-named Eve-olution ( as in Adam and Eve, the spin-off involving first sons Cain and Abel and their space-alien wives ) .

Jonathan Marc Sherman's diatribe attempts to make a case for mass media over arcane scholarship while rounding up the usual targets: Henry's fiancée fucks like a bunny until the plot requires her to acquire a brain and a conscience, his prospective father-in-law engages in apathetic phone-sex with an equally indifferent nymphet-for-hire, a stodgy narrator interrupts the action to supply us with unnecessary footnotes. But MOB Productions is not content to simply preach this tired sermon, instead proceeding to demonstrate it with a score of incidental music referencing such familiar audial cues as the bridge from Law & Order and slickly-produced video clips viewed on an increasing number of monitor screens to provide a running backdrop of iconic pop-culture images—including Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore; Gene Wilder; Underdog; Spider-Man; and the inevitable Madonna.

Is this distracting? You bet it is! Again and again, the recognition sparked by the pre-packaged elements pulls attention from the drab live-action scenario with its classroom-ambient actors. The sole exception is Mark Matthews—significantly, also MOB's video designer—who delivers a Frankenstein-sized performance as amped-up sibling Ernie. It's a clever concept, but ultimately shoots the show in its own foot—another martyr to technology. Only in this case, the fatal wound is self-inflicted.


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