Common Rooms | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Common Rooms, Blankspace, at Victory Gardens Theater. The scenes that drive Aron Egner and Rush Howell's play involve four boys seeking to survive a juvenile detention center while the warden mentally crumbles. In these tightly written segments, smoothly performed in Blankspace's Chicago debut, Howell is a standout as Paul, a volatile, disturbed individual made even more fascinating by his calm aloofness and fluent delivery of comic put-downs in other scenes.

The problem is that other key moments in the play, directed by Nick Merritt, do not develop the same dramatic impetus. Common Rooms works well when the characters' stories are conveyed by the actors but rings false when it relies on theatrical devices. Instead of actually witnessing a critical confrontation between the warden (well played by Jim Jarvis) and a resident, we're offered three quick tableaux of the fight scene weakened by inadequate blackouts that can't cloak the actors' movements in this small space. A downstage exchange is not compelling enough to distract us from the setup for the next pose.

A present-day conflict between two former residents (strongly portrayed by Steve Rifkin and Frank Fowle) that frames the main action doesn't help. Regularly returning to the present is an obvious expository device that slows this promising play considerably.

--Jenn Goddu

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