Every Speck of Dust That Falls to Earth Really Does Make the Whole Planet Heavier/Born Yesterday | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Every Speck of Dust That Falls to Earth Really Does Make the Whole Planet Heavier/Born Yesterday


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Warm Body
at the Rudely Elegant Theater and Gallery

They said that the revolution would not be televised. But it was. In fact, television was the revolution. Now the consciousness of an entire generation--so faceless it's known as Generation X--has been formed by the idiot box. Even when it tries to fight the establishment, this generation finds itself mired in a television sensibility. Go into any contemporary art museum and you're likely to find a huge, mind-numbing bank of flashing TV screens, or video used some other way. Go to the cinema, and you'll see a half-dozen films based on TV shows. And there has been a disturbing trend of creating live performances that look a hell of a lot like television.

Every Speck of Dust That Falls to Earth Really Does Make the Whole Planet Heavier is an attempt at a sort of manifesto for the television generation. But it winds up less a social criticism than another glaring example of what it's trying to criticize. Written and performed by a group calling itself Warm Body, Every Speck of Dust uses a TV newsmagazine format to present a series of skits that expose and criticize America in the 90s.

The show takes its title from a line in Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, a book we all read in Wanda Lincoln's fifth-grade class. The title suggests that every little thing we do has a big effect on the planet. In Every Speck of Dust, a wide-ranging series of sketches switch from comic one moment to dramatic the next. Just like hitting different buttons on the remote control.

The scenes are all over the map. There's the one in which Maggie Thatcher and George Bush do bongs and reveal that they don't give a shit about the people. And then there's the one in which a man arrested for child abuse tells his side of the story. There are the inevitable David Duke and Dan Quayle sketches, a sketch about the difficulties of getting a job and maintaining one's self-respect, and various invocations to the audience to get involved, join a cause, and get out and vote because every speck of dust . . .

There are also a few excellently performed and insightful moments. Jeff Seasholtz's "Ode to PBS," a raucous folk song that describes how his entire childhood education came from the boob tube, is hilarious and all too short. Dave Smith's "Comedian Exposes Self to Crowd" is a clever, incisive deconstruction of a typical stand-up comic's act. But far too much of the show comes off as preachy, obvious, and shallow.

The political satire and commentary have no bite. "The Dan Quayle National Dance Company" sketch, which features an absurd modern-dance troupe flailing its arms to boneheaded statements made by the VP, is the theatrical equivalent of a kindergarten child mimicking everything the teacher says in a high, silly voice. A skit in which the translator gives the "true" version of everything a political candidate says seems lifted straight out of a Mad magazine "When They Say _____, They Really Mean _____" feature. The monologues about how one vote really counts and how a homeless man died and nobody cared are just plain simplistic.

The show's finale, which features a chorus singing a rousing David Duke fight song ("Come Fly Away in My Bigoted Balloon"), would carry more weight if every member of Warm Body weren't a clean-scrubbed Caucasian. There's a certain irony in an overly politically correct show filled with whites in which virtually every large part is given to a man. A visitor from another country seeing this show might well assume that the twenty-something generation was made up of nothing but middle-class white guys. The show is also overlong. Though it lasts only about two hours, it seems padded.

Though well-intentioned, Every Speck of Dust does not succeed. The usual criticism of our generation is that we are spoiled, naive, and have no character of our own. This show never disputes that; in fact, it goes a long way toward proving it.


Athenaeum Theatre Company

I'm not sure what the term "community theater" is supposed to mean. Usually it suggests a low-quality mom-and-pop neighborhood production done by a group of well-meaning unprofessionals; most theater professionals cringe at it. But the Athenaeum Theatre Company, known as one of the city's oldest community theaters and now making the transition to non-Equity professional status, is offering a production of Born Yesterday that features acting and production values every bit as professional as most shows I've seen here in the past few years.

Garson Kanin's play, the familiar but somewhat dated tale of a "dumb blond" who manages to outwit the movers and shakers of Washington, D.C. and finds that happiness resides not in mink coats but in true love, seems right at home in Athenaeum's wonderful space. Directed with a great sense of timing by Tom Quinn, Born Yesterday is a thoroughly enjoyable time trip, to a period when men wore suits and women evening gowns to the theater.

Mary Hay as the lead, Billie Dawn, is truly excellent. An able supporting cast perform their roles with relish, and even the weaker players seem to be having such a good time that one forgets their weaknesses.

Born Yesterday won't blow anyone away with its brilliance, but for someone looking for a nice night out with a few laughs and a few thoughts to chew over, this show might be the perfect thing.

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