Ellen Universe Joins the Band | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Ellen Universe Joins the Band

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Equity Library Theatre Chicago, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop.

This has all the fixings of a real play: characters, dialogue, a story (more or less), even lots of death imagery--ghosts, clocks, caterpillars turning into butterflies--so that we former English majors can troll for deeper meanings. The only thing this play lacks is the spark of life, which turns words into conversation and people moving around and talking onstage into theater.

David Rush's Ellen Universe Joins the Band is admittedly a nicely structured flashback machine. Ellen Universe comes onstage, tells us that another character named Peter has committed suicide, and then tells us her life story--which includes the deaths of several other ciphers (brother, dad, mom)--by way of explaining why Peter's death is sad. Unfortunately, we never feel we get to know Ellen or any other character, so the story unfolds with all the emotional impact of an accident report.

Even when Rush touches on potentially moving subjects, such as Ellen's mom's pathetic transformation from vigorous senior citizen to wheelchair-bound basket case, he skirts the issues. As a result we soon grow tired of Ellen Universe, never really caring whether she joins the band or not.

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