Egyptian Rat Screw | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Egyptian Rat Screw

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Egyptian Rat Screw, Uffish Theater Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Carl Jung, Karl Marx, and an iron maiden walk into a bar--that's the rumpled punch line of Chicago playwright Jason M. Lindner's overwritten, underdeveloped dark comedy. Elton (Brendan Farley) is a young interrogator ordered to torture information out of revolutionary musician Vic Bloom (Michael T. Spatafora). Hungry for a promotion, Elton pulls every instrument of psychological persecution out of his hat only to discover that Vic's ramblings about "collective consciousness" mask another, more insidious identity.

Lindner's rage against the machine is a bit old hat--big government bad, liberation of the individual good. Weakly reminiscent of Dario Fo's Abducting Diana, the play is so pretentiously chatty that it's easy to tune out its socioreligious allusions. Clever twists in Lindner's script include a creepy scene that reveals why the scruffy Vic is so chipper after voltage rocks his body (Michelle Habeck's lights are hair-raising). But director Lauren Miller skims over the sadomasochistic undertones in the play, named for a dog-eat-dog card came. True, nails are ripped off fingers with pliers, a tooth is extracted with a bloody tug--grotesqueries staged with such horrific realism they elicited gasps from the audience. But these visceral moments were few and far between.

The actors are sufficiently animated, but only two of them--Spatafora, who brings a divinity-in-combat-boots sincerity to Vic, and Julia Siple as an interrogator and Elton's wife--breathe life into their otherwise derivative roles.

--Erik Piepenburg

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