CRIMINAL HEARTS, Strawdog Theatre Company. Strawdog worked for more than two years to win the rights to this work by Jane Martin, the pseudonymous feminist playwright. After all, it's Martin's first comedy set in Chicago, specifically a Gold Coast condo.

It hardly seems to have been worth the trouble, however, despite the playwright's sympathy for life's underdogs. Predictable and heavy-handed, glib and oversimplified, the play contrives to connect two women from very different backgrounds who've both been exploited. They meet when Bo tries to burglarize Ata's place, only to discover that Wib, Ata's adulterous lawyer husband, has already robbed her: before divorcing Ata, he stripped her of everything but her wardrobe. Now she lives on Dr. Pepper and pizza and sharpens pencils to calm herself down. And as it turns out, Bo robs to strike back at the man who done her wrong. Strategically the women's differences melt as they find sisterly solidarity and metamorphose into Thelma and Louise. Two men--Wib and Robbie, Bo's henchman--also make appearances, but they're clay pigeons to be shot down: the play seldom earns the misandry it indulges.

In Richard Shavzin's high-energy staging this edgy sitcom is suitably cartoony, slowing down only for the calculated pathos. Cheryl Graeff plays Ata with a manic zeal that seems an unintentional cry for help: Ata is a depressing stereotype, a woman who's hysterical and dependent, first on Wib, then Bo. Kristie Berger's Bo is a life force who should be doing things, not just talking tough.

--Lawrence Bommer

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