Down in the Mouth and Cartograffiti | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Down in the Mouth and Cartograffiti

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DOWN IN THE MOUTH and CARTOGRAFFITI, Dramatist Revolutionary Army, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. In the wide-eyed, somewhat surly rebelliousness of these two one-acts, audiences may see some of the energy that vibrated in Steppenwolf's legendary beginnings--some of the confrontational, thrown-together aesthetic, the brash, violent, earnest irreverence that spawned all sorts of contradictions and excesses and, sometimes, inspired performances. Sure, Jaimie-Lee Wise's Cartograffiti and Dominique Gallo's Down in the Mouth are full of dramaturgical holes and hyperemotional scenes. But the always steamy Performance Loft space nearly crackles with the Dramatist Revolutionary Army's passion, and that fire illuminates the beauty in these flawed but risk-taking productions.

Both plays follow the "dirty little secret" formula most neophyte American playwrights seem to love; what energizes them is the playwrights' vivid rejection of conformity. Cartograffiti is a complicated puzzle, wheeling dizzily around a mysterious death, a drugged-out drifter, and a young girl's desperate bid for independence, all ultimately linked to the manipulations of a strange cartographer. Down in the Mouth offers a visceral portrait of a woman with multiple personality disorder, her desperate life revealing a lot about the price of secrets. Resisting any easy resolution, Gallo gives us a struggle that ends in repression, not peace.

Theater this raw may not appeal to everyone, but the actors' solid, totally committed performances make the Dramatist Revolutionary Army worth supporting. Who knows, it may be the start of something big. --Carol Burbank

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