CHILDE BYRON, Eclipse Theatre Company. It's difficult to see what draws Chicago theater companies again and again to this creaky, humorless play--this is the third production I've seen in recent years. Playwright Romulus Linney, one of America's most celebrated boring playwrights, invents a needlessly elaborate framework to examine the life of seminal romantic poet Lord Byron. Byron's 36-year-old mathematician daughter Ada is in the final throes of cancer, and in a laudanum-induced delirium, she summons the spirit of her long-dead father--a summoning that takes all of three seconds. Abandoned by him as an infant, Ada wants to find a "solution to my father," which in Linney's limited imagination amounts to her staging a two-hour book report on his life.
Linney plops out one sketchy episode after another. Here's Byron tossing contemptuous barbs at interchangeable sycophants. Here's Byron hating his mother. Here's Byron professing love for his half sister, whom we've never met. Ada narrates through the first act, but when she steps in to play her own mother in act two, a gaggle of two-dimensional chorus figures take over the narration for no apparent reason. None of it amounts to much, and despite Jenny McKnight's heroic performance as Ada, her need to "solve" her father never makes much sense. As usual, director Steve Scott puts a smart cast through brisk pacing, but rarely have so many talented people been so uninteresting.