I Am Hugo | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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I AM HUGO, Facets Multimedia International Performance Studio. If Kevin Rechner doesn't make it in theater, he might consider opening an amusement park. The carefully rigged set for his original one-person show, I Am Hugo, includes many delightful little surprises, from a pencil that defies gravity to a bathroom sink that swallows him bodily. Having studied with Daniel Stein, a student of the great mime master Etienne Decroux (whom a program note inexplicably describes as "largely unknown"), Rechner possesses enough physical control to carry these tricks off without a hitch. In a city full of slipshod theatricality, this technical expertise is refreshing.

Paradoxically, Rechner's fascination with technique is also his greatest handicap, for in this darkly comic exploration of an ordinary man's ordinary day, technique is always in the foreground; it rarely disappears in service of character. While such masters of physical comedy as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and Jacques Tati make carefully choreographed routines seem completely offhand, Rechner displays all his effort. His comedy seems manufactured rather than discovered.

An even bigger problem is the script, which Rechner created from a short story by Robert Hayden. I Am Hugo attempts to dramatize the mundane struggles of a nondescript existence, but its failure to stretch beyond the generic and predictable--an anonymous corporate job, an empty home life, and a sleep disorder--leaves the title character nearly featureless and completely unengaging. Rechner would do well to study a writer like Gogol, who brilliantly created hapless nobodies in exquisite detail (his Akaky Akakyevich, for example, always seems to walk under a window just as someone dumps garbage out of it). I Am Hugo contains a half dozen moments of nascent brilliance--most notably the encounter with the ravenous bathroom sink--but perhaps Rechner's talents as a performer would be better served if he teamed up with a decent writer.

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