Chicago on the Rocks, Free Associates, at Ivanhoe Theater. A Buddhist once said to a hot-dog vendor, "Make me one with everything." That wise joke informs these ten monologues by Reader writer Neal Pollack, the fourth installment in the Free Associates' "Strut & Fret" festival of original works. It's the least original offering: the portraits are of real Chicagoans, whose quirks Pollack captures by having listened well and looked hard, by having found crucial connections among apparent contradictions.
Nothing like stereotypes, these vintage Windy Citizens include a 100-year-old aerobics buff who auditions for commercials, a fashion photographer who fishes to relax even though he hates it, a defensive theater critic who works for Commonwealth Edison, and a monster-movie maker who found Jesus. The monologues cause shocks of recognition: a Rogers Park coffee-shop owner decries today's lack of culture and craves slasher films, a south-side sign painter brags about the money he's offered for his paint-splattered pants. Most moving is Liz Cloud as a softhearted junk-store owner who's furnished half her neighborhood but finds herself pushed out by gentrification.
Directed by Mark Gagne, the four-person cast condescend to their parts more often than they stretch, but that's a problem with the material. Not intrinsically dramatic, it seems stuck between oral history and self-sustaining fiction.