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Over My Dead Body
by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: material arranged by the Waltzing Mechanics ensemble. At: the Waltzing Mechanics at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; Article Link Here ; $20-$25. Runs through: Jan. 6

Don't let the title fool you—this is not some Joe Orton-styled spoof of funeral customs, nor a sentimental speculation on life beyond the grave à la Spoon River Anthology. The Waltzing Mechanics' stock-in-trade is something that could be called roman retrouve—documentary narratives forged from "found" material (e.g. occurrences on a single line of Chicago's El train) or interviews conducted with witnesses to a particular event. The topic under focus in this case is the still-unresolved fate of St. Johannes Cemetery, slated for demolition since 2001 in order to make room for expansion of O'Hare Airport.

At the center of the turmoil are the descendants of those interred in the graveyard abutting Bensenville's St. John's United Church of Christ, incensed at the indifference shown by the City of Chicago regarding the physical and psychological distress this decision precipitates. Their arguments encompass the history of land now occupied by the international transport hub—how a WWII airplane factory's landing strip, then called Orchard Field (abbreviated ORD to this day), came to swallow the surrounding farms. The discussion also explores the practices of post-industrial societies regarding disposition of earthly remains: the graves beneath Lincoln Park bereft of their markers, the destruction of family tombs in the Chinese revolution, the crowding of columbariums housing crematory urns—even such exotic high-tech solutions as Facebook's "memorial web-pages" or the incorporation of ashes into memento-mori art.

Lance Hill, Shariba Rivers and Keely Leonard each play one of the St. Johannes deceased, who grow increasingly worn and tattered as they are shifted from one bureaucracy-mandated repository to another, and Bryan Campbell makes an earnest advocate for citizens seeking to protect their ancestors. This leaves the portrayal of 19 characters to the ensemble's six remaining members. Projecting the name of each scene's speaker on a small screen in the upper corner of the stage helps to distinguish them, but the array of identities still sometimes blurs under the weight of information stretching the show's running time to 90 minutes.

If the Mechanics' efforts to provoke contemplation of our own final rests occasionally become protracted, however, the empathy they engender puts a human face on the conflict between reverence for the dead and progress for the living. "They're Moving Father's Grave To Build A Sewer" isn't just an Irish pub song, you know.

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