A playwright’s attack on her own character amounts to Empty Threats | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A playwright’s attack on her own character amounts to Empty Threats

Until the end, Lily Mooney's charming experimental play strikes a balance between coherence and ambiguity.


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God knows what Victor, a hapless English professor holed up in his temporary university office, is up to at the beginning of Neo-Futurist Lily Mooney's new play. Pants around his ankles, he kneads his stomach with a pillow and then his fists, grunting noncommittally as though caught between masturbation and vocal warm-ups. In barges Mooney, calling herself Herself but also admitting (eventually) to being the evening's playwright, coy, detached, vaguely threatening, alternately insisting that Victor has failed her and that he must read her paper on Frankenstein—or more accurately, on Mary Shelley's introduction to Frankenstein, since she acknowledges she never read the novel. Throughout, she steals impish glances at the audience as though conceding this whole affair is idiotic.

And God knows what playwright Mooney is up to for the rest of these equally elusive 90 minutes. The pervasive ambiguity makes for a savvy first hour, as Mooney keeps a tight focus on the slippery interplay between Herself and Victor (a deliciously bland Jared Fernley), lampooning, reversing, and reifying certain gendered power dynamics routinely overcooked on local stages (in one particularly inspired moment, Mooney has a near breakdown realizing her theatrical efforts amount to little more than a half-baked Oleanna). It's charming and penetrating and just metatheatrical enough to keep everything simultaneously coherent and off-balance.

But in the final half hour Mooney unhelpfully widens her focus, chasing numerous self-referential ideas down conceptual dead ends and indulging in scattershot anecdote assemblage rather than meaningful resolution of her tantalizing material.   v

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