Book of Mercy | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Book of Mercy

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Book of Mercy, Chicago Dramatists. Carson Grace Becker's new play is one of the most disheartening theatrical endeavors I've encountered in recent months. Despite Chicago Dramatists' much ballyhooed presence on larger stages around the city this year, including an upcoming production of Becker and David Barr's By the Music of the Spheres at the Goodman, there's little to recommend this turgid, self-conscious, confused script. Instead of well-rounded characters Becker offers posturing, preening, mostly fabulously wealthy cutouts devoid of emotional truth.

Set in an extraordinarily plush but odd rehab center--no one on the medical staff ever seems to have any real work to do--the play purports to be about healing and accepting loss as part of life. Stella (Suzanne Petri) is a recovering alcoholic terrified of leaving her cushy rehab bubble (which, in Joey Wade's ornate set, is filled to the brim with expensive bric-a-brac). During a visit from Stella's ex (Richard Henzel), we learn that her tortured, angelic poet daughter, who died in a bizarre accident in India, left behind the titular journal. You know you're in trouble when the playwright solemnly encapsulates the artistic impulse in the line "It's a gift--madness."

Ann Filmer's glacial staging doesn't help matters, but it's hard to know what could have resuscitated this blend of portentous psychobabble and tortured soap opera relationships. Becker takes a lot of potshots at the shallowness of Hollywood, but the average episode of Crossing Over has more depth than her play.

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