Front/Chairs | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Front/Chairs

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Front, A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory, and Chairs, CarniKid Productions, at the Cornservatory. This production of Front, Robert Caisley's play about the Nazi bombing of London during World War II, raises many questions. But not the kind you want an audience asking. Why is this play so long? Why can't the actors maintain their British accents? Why are the characters so shallow? And what did Caisley have to do to get Lanford Wilson to select this tiresome work for the Fourth Freedom Forum Playwriting Award in 1996?

Actually I think I know the answer to the last question. Front is just the sort of timid, well-meaning, formulaic script people love to give awards to. Caisley's message is crystal clear: war is horrible. He even includes a scene in which two children first kick the body of a dead girl, then steal her doll. A London woman working in a bomb factory decides it isn't moral for her to make bombs anymore--a fine sentiment if your country is on the offensive in an unjust cause but somehow less persuasive in a play about the Nazis bombing civilians.

There are a few noteworthy performers--Robyn Acceta, Taryn Hettlinger, and Justin Birnbaum--but their fine work is all but lost amid Caisley's fragments in search of a play.

The show immediately following Front is a fully improvised one-act, Chairs, created by a cast of seven under the direction of Bina Martin. And by comparison with the bloated, dead-in-the-water Front, Chairs seemed graceful and energetic, the performers in complete control of their material. For a little more than an hour they spun the tale of a likable fool who keeps letting his best buddy dare him to do more and more dangerous things. And instead of going for easy ComedySportz-type jokes, everyone took their time and created rich, multilayered characters--a choice that paid off in a surprisingly moving ending.

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