Calamity Meat | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Calamity Meat, Seanachai Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. Like countless playwrights past, Seanachai ensemble member Coby Goss dips into the white trash wading pool for this small-time fraud caper, but how his characters made their way into the trailer park is relatively curious. The Sherlock clan are travelers, or tinkers--Gypsies who arrived in South Carolina by way of Ireland, allegedly descended from refugees of British atrocities, from the Battle of the Boyne to the potato famine. But if it weren't for the program notes and a smattering of obscure slang, you'd never guess: these are standard-issue Dixie hicks, and pretty white-bread at that.

The tenuous relevance of the characters' pedigree is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the play's problems go. Thin characterizations and simplistic, often implausible bursts of drama flatten the connivings of the Sherlock swindling and thievery collective; the vague trickle of a double-crossing plot emerges at the pace of Heinz ketchup, with similarly fascinating results. Sympathetic lead victim Cubby excepted, none of the characters is especially likable, but then none is particularly despicable--it's hard to get excited either way.

Generally speaking, Calamity Meat doesn't quite know what it's about. Director Scott Cummins has a steady, professional hand but seems baffled as well; the actors do what they can, but it's an uphill battle with no clear goal. Brian Hamman (Cubby) and Julia Neary (quasi femme fatale Starla) are especially good, and Joey Wade's marvelous set has all the squalid texture the script lacks.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brett Grafton.

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