Christmas on Mars | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Christmas on Mars


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Radiant Theatre, at Cafe Voltaire.

If AIDS had claimed the life of playwright Harry Kondoleon only, it would still be a national tragedy. He took the mine field of Sam Shepard's mythopoeic American landscape and forced it into the amoral, go-go 80s to produce a handful of viciously ironic lyric catastrophes. Kondoleon's seemingly ordinary worlds conceal a moral and spiritual bankruptcy that separates the characters from any real possibility for rejuvenation, rebirth, or even change; the only thing left to them is language, which they use to insulate themselves from hopelessness or to inflict wounds upon one another. In the land of the unwavering toothpaste smile, Kondoleon's genius for dramatizing unadulterated anguish is sorely needed--and missed.

Like all his furious and florid plays, Christmas on Mars offers heaps of nearly insurmountable challenges. Set in a gloomy New York apartment where four miserably self-absorbed people imagine that the arrival of a baby will somehow transform them into responsible adults, the play seems to run in all directions at once. Radiant Theatre spent an entire act trying to pull it into focus, hampered by director Shannon Epplett's curious penchant for placing his actors where they upstage one another. But in the second act nearly everything falls into place--except Epplett's awkward staging. The cast exchange their first-act petulance for the kind of steely brutality the script requires, communicating numerous moments of breathtaking despair the likes of which few doing Kondoleon ever achieve.

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