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Theater: The Return of Herbert Bracewell
by Cathy Seabaugh

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Playwright: Andrew Johns

At: Klass Productions at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago

Phone: ( 773 ) 327-5252 $25

Runs through: Dec. 19

By Catey Sullivan

Like cigarettes, vanity productions should come with warnings: This product created by people with more money than artistic judgment.

Alas, no such cautions were offered opening night audiences at The Return of Herbert Bracewell, Andrew John's nattering play about a senior citizen actor with more than 40 years experience in the theater.

Bracewell producer and star Art Kassul is a senior citizen actor with more than 40 years experience in the theater. It fails to achieve even mediocrity, one suspects, because the producer is too close to his project to see it objectively.

While mediocrity isn't utterly enraging when it is the product of people one suspects are incapable of doing better, it is unforgivable coming from the group assembled under the auspices of Klass Productions.

The program credits William Pullinsi with direction. Say it ain't so. Not the same William Pullinsi whose Candlelight Theatre Cabaret of a few years ago was searing enough to make emotional mincemeat of even the most jaded of theatergoers?

Set in the first decade of the last century, Bracewell centers on the title character as he plots a stage comeback from an attic crammed with the detritus of a life in theater.

Kassul seems ill-prepared and uncommitted as Bracewell. Painfully tripping over more than a few lines, he presents the picture of someone too beguiled with the sound of his own voice to be bothered with little things like, oh, studying the script.

Then there is the shrugging banality of Herbert Bracewell's life itself. This is a chap whose story would interest his mother. The rest of us, not so much. Moreover, many of the things he says are so overwhelmingly stupid that any bit of respect one might have had for the character is squashed like a grape under an elephant. Case in point: Bracewell disparages Shakespeare for writing too many lines. One could understand that sentiment coming from a 10th grader. Falling from the mouth of a veteran actor, it's idiotic.

Joining Bracewell in his anecdotes and reminisces is his long-term significant other Florence ( a bland Ami Silvestre ) .

We're given no reason to care about either of them as they wend their way through two hours of self-absorbed verbosity.

Thank goodness for the work of one-named set designer Kingsley and propmaster Billy Carey. Their marvelously overstuffed set is a classic attic, replete with everything from stuffed crows to snowshoes. This eye-grabbing bric-a-brac is the most intriguing aspect of the show.

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