How to Act | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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How to Act, Wholesale/Chicago, at the Lunar Cabaret, through August 3. This high-concept performance piece almost defies description, which I think means it's a success. You might call Jim Strahs's non sequitur-sprinkled free-associative script a hybrid parody of overintense acting classes and one-man shows, as one mad teacher delivers a runaway "instructional" monologue. The evening's best moments, however, are arresting bits of genuine artistry, especially a few songs that masterfully alloy mock and dead serious. And since star Michael Stumm--a former Wooster Group member--has taught acting for 20 years, it seems possible the whole thing might, in a hyperabstract way, be in earnest. But then there's this sort of prompter-stage manager, occasionally supplying a monotone line from a three-ring binder, undercutting any pretense of sincerity. And then there's the photos of ass decorating the stage...Though exceptionally smart, the text purposely hovers just this side of coherence, making for a studied vacancy that's tantalizing or trying depending on your taste. Regardless, as prickly wiseassery goes, this is a lot of fun.

Bristling with practiced self-importance, Stumm is a commanding physical presence--one of those frustrating types who thinks he's really, really special and is. Resembling nothing so much as a coked-up Dick Cavett, he offers shrilly hilarious theatrical demonstrations, sometimes trance-inducing impromptu songs, and mercifully crisp jogs through scattered bits of cheap slapstick. As his seriously low-energy sidekick, Marissa McKown personifies disinterested boredom and supplies crack backing vocals and instrumentation when needed. Directed by Stefan Brun.

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