Embracing the Undertoad and Survive This! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Embracing the Undertoad and Survive This!


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Embracing the Undertoad, Bailiwick Repertory, and Survive This!, Bailiwick Repertory. It's hard to imagine why the 60-minute one-act Embracing the Undertoad won the Lesbian Theatre Initiative's playwriting competition. Agnes (Angie Carr) is a waitress supporting her lover Madeline (Jennifer Wilson), a struggling writer. Their relationship--already fraught with miscommunication, manipulation, and codependency--is threatened by the unexpected arrival of Agnes's spacey sister Bella (Lindsay Doleshal), known for seducing Agnes's lovers. Agnes wants Bella to leave; Bella won't budge until Agnes admits that she loves her.

Playwright Robin Rice Lichtig gives director Amanda Amadei little to work with. Despite feints at depth (the "undertoad" is the thing we fear most in ourselves), the play is so riddled with stereotypes--the blocked alcoholic writer, the granola girl living on a cooperative farm--that it seems to be more an idea for a play than an actual play. The characters are vague, the dialogue is clunky ("She spills emotions like spaghetti"), and the plot's supernatural twist is hackneyed and ridiculous. An interesting O. Henry-esque concept--Agnes and Madeline both make themselves miserable because they believe their misery will make the other happy--is simply not enough to sustain the play.

Bailiwick's revival of Rusty Hernandez's Survive This!, an improv parody of Survivor, is only mildly funny, yet its good-natured competition promises to make it a crowd pleaser. Eight actors playing over-the-top characters--a sexpot with a faux British accent (Kim Ferse), a boy-band refugee (Cory Schiffern), a schizophrenic who jumps between macho homophobe and gay queen (Jay Paul Deratany), among others--compete for $500 over four weeks by performing a monologue and some improv games. Each week the audience votes one actor off the show (though, unlike Survivor, here each audience member votes for the person he or she would like to have stay). Jason Bowen is annoying as the host, a Jeff Probst knockoff; Jeremy Lawson is underutilized as his female cohost. The competitors, all inexperienced, each had good moments--especially Ferse, whose fresh ideas added snap. A second series with a different set of actors begins in November, and a holiday-themed one in December.

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