Gone | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


Theater Oobleck

If you're not a member of the Oobleck cognoscenti, seeing an Oobleck show can be kind of like going to a party where you're the only one who's not stoned. All around you, there are people discussing with amazing lucidity Hegelian philosophy and Wilbur Wood and how Animals was really Pink Floyd's most powerful album. And you start to wonder if you've lost touch with reality. You don't get it, but maybe you're the geek who shouldn't have been invited to this party to begin with.

Theater Oobleck specializes in mind-screws, plays whose summarized plots sound more like heinous LSAT word problems than traditional theater pieces. Their plays drop numerous political and cultural references and develop anarchic alternative worlds in which confusion seems to be the desired audience reaction. And yet the clique that gathers to see these efforts laughs uproariously at the insider jokes and raucously applauds every brilliant, semibrilliant, or completely gross effort of this troupe, defying any stranger who might conclude that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Gone, Oobleck's latest opus, is a sometimes inspired, sometimes awful, sometimes outright disgusting absurdist romp through subatomic worlds, children's literature, and the toilet bowl. Mickle Maher, who along with the rest of the Oobleck crew created this work, gives us a home in a planet called Healing Wound. Alan, a frantic intellectual, lives at home with his wife Verna, who is rapidly devolving into a reptile. They and their acquaintances, among them the vodka-swilling lush Beverly and the doctoral candidate Tom, who is working on a thesis written on origami paper that will engulf and destroy the doctoral review committee, are hurtled into subatomic space through a rather clever plot mechanism that I'll leave the reader to discover.

Once in this world, the characters seem more at ease, but there are difficulties, the first of which is that the characters here have become nonexcreting imbibers--which means that they can take in food and drink but it will rest in their bodily systems forever until their bodies overflow and their bladders explode. The couples are also alternatively charmed and terrorized by a trio of "borrowers," taken from the children's book of that name, who delight in stealing all the characters' personal belongings, and by a race of wormlike creatures, which is a polite way of saying that Oobleck's show features a smiling 16-foot-long stool.

Oobleck seems to delight in popping in literary and cultural references. This particular writer gleaned influences from Horton Hears a Who, John Waters's Pink Flamingos, Terminator 2, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, all of which combine to create a fecal nightmare vision of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

But for all the clever plotting and irreverent wordplay, the 80-minute Gone remains underdeveloped, its humor primarily of the toilet bowl. Those who don't mind stringy pieces of dreck being flung on cast members to the accompaniment of electronic retching noises, those who can find insightful humor in watching characters drinking until their bladders are ruptured, those who can endure an endless onslaught of fuck thises, fuck thats, and fuck yous, might indeed find this a rewarding production. But anyone else might feel that this world in which "digestion is not the fashion" is little more than an intellectually dressed up sci-fi Tidy Bowl commercial from hell.

It's a shame, because this is a talented crew of performers. Jeff Dorchen and Maher are, as usual, entertaining and intelligent. Rick Boike's opening and closing music is bouncy and amusing. And Blair Thomas's fecal puppet is a clever though yucky creation. But the endless shitstorms and jokes about self-mutilation are neither funny nor interesting. And rather than engage in intelligent conversation about our overly anal society, Oobleck merely hurls waste on its stage, inspiring one departing audience, at least, to no end of stupid but appropriate puns: "Oobleck's production suffers from diarrhea of the mouth"; "They think their shit doesn't stink"; and my favorite, "Oobleck tries dazzling us with brilliance but winds up baffling us with bullshit."

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