HOUSE OF LUCKY, at Bailiwick Repertory. It takes guts to bring a one-man show to Chicago without a major publicity campaign or a national reputation: intelligent, charismatic solo performers are a dime a dozen here. Fortunately, San Francisco's Frank Wortham has guts to spare. His unpredictable House of Lucky follows burned-out wannabe poet Harper Jones through a world of overzealous hippies, visionary junkies, sex-crazed rockers, and other self-serving radicals. Hoping to find a moral foothold within this quagmire of compromise, he nevertheless spurns every hand up that might pull him from the mud. Wortham's piece is full of ethical ambivalence; in 70 minutes he rarely offers an easy answer. Shifting gracefully between poetry and prose, unlocking a deep spiritual resonance in lives lived on society's margins, his voice is reminiscent of the young Sam Shepard.
Wortham's performance skills, however, lag behind his writing. People in this character-driven piece come in three varieties: stoned, frenetic, and both. And Wortham hasn't yet found a structure that will allow his ideas to evolve; after 45 minutes it's clear that House of Lucky, like its protagonist, needs some direction. But the fire in this performer is unmistakable. Once Wortham finds a way to focus his burning vision, he could set the theater world ablaze. --Justin Hayford