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Beat the Jester

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BEAT THE JESTER, at Chicago Dramatists. Beverly-bred playwright Gary Slezak brings local color to this tale of aldermanic succession, and he also knows his family-drama archetypes. Paterfamilias and ward boss Slap Lucek has shuffled off this mortal coil but beams on mirthlessly from the barroom wall. Disappointing son Danny--who's cut a deal with daddy's rival Scully--mismanages the fiefdom, triggering the inevitable double cross, while bitter firstborn Jane bides her time, grim as a gangster's moll. Enter last-born love child and half-brother Flood, a crazy self-styled prophet with a secret that could shatter the balance of power. It's all pleasantly evocative, right down to the neighborhood-dive setting, nicely realized by designer Joey Wade. But for all its bloodletting and hysteria, the story remains curiously inert.

Flood's MacGuffin elicits a revelation from every principal, but each seems more Raskolnikov than Jean Valjean, dying to confess despite his alleged reticence. The secrets themselves are pretty guessable, mostly coming out in bluntly self-reflective monologues. Fortunately the actors acquit themselves well, especially Gene Janson as deceptively decrepit barkeep Balzak and Philip Dawkins, whose funny, hopped-up portrayal of Flood paces the show. Christopher Cordon and Josette DiCarlo do limited but solid work as Danny and Jane, and director Richard Shavzin wisely moves things to their Greek-tragedy conclusion as quickly as he can.

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