Couchpiece/Coming Back | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Couchpiece/Coming Back


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Organic Theater Company Greenhouse

Couchpiece and Coming Back, two one-act plays at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, make for an odd double bill. Both pieces are briskly directed, both have moments of pathos wrapped up in irreverence, and both make strong political statements. But they're also quite different. Couchpiece doesn't have a word of dialogue, while Coming Back is one massive internal monologue; the humor in Couchpiece is broad and fantastic, while that in Coming Back is more subtle and poignant; and Couchpiece dissects a particularly female experience, while Coming Back is about a situation usually experienced by men.

Written and directed by Ann Boyd and Julia Neary, with Krista Strutz and Fred Stone, Couchpiece is hilarious at first. The play opens with a woman coming home from work. She doffs her street clothes, slips into a pair of sweats, and proceeds to sprawl out on the couch, ready to veg in front of the TV. But the stuff on the tube is pretty awful--a constant barrage of ads and programs that portray a kind of fantasy woman--so she keeps channel hopping with the remote. As she begins to give in to the utter wasteland on the set, though, the TV seems to take on a life of its own. It keeps changing channels whether she wants it to or not.

Actually, it's not the TV that's doing it but the couch. Hands keep popping out from between the cushions, grabbing the remote, scratching the woman's legs. By the time she figures out that this is not a technical difficulty, two fully grown women wearing surgical masks and toting construction tools have emerged from the pillows.

Their mission: to transform the woman's seemingly meaningless self into the television ideal. At this point the slapstick goes into high gear. The two workers screw a pair of new breasts on her, slap on a new face and new hair (an incredible blond monstrosity made of plastic or papier-mache), slip her into a tight dress, and set her ever so shakily on a pair of arch-killing shoes.

If the message is obvious, it's no less fun and important. Couchpiece is fast, furious, and funny, but it takes its point seriously. And that's good.

Coming Back, inspired by Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, virtually retells that story. A guy goes to war, gets his face and limbs blown off, and is essentially trapped, incommunicado, in his own body.

Two elements, however, really make Coming Back work. The first is Maurice Chasse's multilevel set design, which allows the character, Robert, to exist on two different planes--this one-act changes locales and times as if it were an MTV video. Occasionally the effect is dizzying--people pop up from under the floor, disappear at a moment's notice--but that hallucinatory quality is perfect for the text.

The second element is Tom McCarthy, whose pink-cheeked all-American good looks help give Robert a real innocence. Taking his time with Robert, he's simply superb, letting each piece of information have its own weight until finally Robert figures out the implications of his living hell. It's painful and awful to listen to sometimes, but of course that's the whole idea.

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