Runner Stumbles

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No one can be on their “A-game” all the time.  After the dreamy, profound, incandescent Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola makes the indulgent, unfocused Marie Antoinette.  For every astounding dazzler such as a late 1990s Balkan War-set King Lear, the Goodman comes up with astounding mediocrity such as Turn of the Century and Ghostwritten.  So my pragmatic self is very much willing to see the undeniable misfire that is Put My Finger In Your Mouth, such a painful disappointment coming after the stunning And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, one of the best shows I’ve seen in Chicago in the early part of 2009, as a blip, as a recoverable stumble, in the ascendancy of the terrific storefront theater company, The Right Brain Project.  I’m sure there was some logical reasoning behind the company’s decision to stage this original work from Bob Fisher as their summer show. Unfortunately both my friends and I failed to grasp the raison d’etre behind putting on an incoherent, underwritten, seemingly under-rehearsed play about two sisters, so different in the way they approach life (one’s a responsible homemaker, the other an unfocused club kid), but who ultimately realize that family are the strongest ties that bind.  As I sweated it out, as if trapped in a Turkish hammam, at the RBP Rorschach, the group’s tiny blackbox theater on the third floor of a warehouse building by the metra tracks at Irving Park and Ravenswood, I wondered, have I totally lost my sense of humor at the theater?  Was I just not getting this play?  Was this a serious attempt to comment on our contemporary times, increasingly marked by drugs, sex, irresponsibility, and familial disaffection?  Was this a parable about the dangers of barebacking (yeah, I didn’t really know where I got that; oh, maybe from the line repeated several times in the play- the girls’ mother’s exhortation when they were little to “play, but play safe”, which sounded like a Steamworks poster to me?!?)?  Or was this just a theater company wanting to not take itself so seriously during the warm weather, having a grand time nudging, winking, in-joking with and at itself, in preparation for a strong, serious season in the fall? Otherwise, how could I explain the perplexing role of the Boxman, who may or may not be the girls’ father (and no clear message was actually telegraphed by the playwright to the audience)?  Why would there be a painfully amateurish American Idol-like group song and dance number incongruously plopped in the middle of the play like whipped cream on a burger patty?  Why did a fight scene occur with actors wearing gigantic rabbit heads and other animal masks?  Who were these animal people? Why were the performances directed to come off like tweens playing dress-up in front of their parent’s bedroom mirror? And why the hell was everyone wanting to suck on club owner The Snailman’s finger?  Other than some woozy ooh-aahhing, no one really made it clear what all this finger-sucking gave to the suckees.   Director Nathan Robbel, also Artistic Director of The Right Brain Project, continued the interesting experimentation with lighting design that he demonstrated in Handcuffs, but other than that, there really wasn’t anything in Put Your Finger that I found striking or memorable.  I’m still up for the theater’s October show, because I know what they’re capable of; I’m chalking up this summer show to warm weather light-headedness.

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