Lepers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Lepers, Sun Partners, Inc., at the Theatre Building. When Lepers first opened, a little more than three years ago at Cafe Voltaire, it had all the earmarks of a long-running late-night show: a darkly comic script, a taboo-flouting subject (sexual perversity in the 90s), intelligent direction, and lots of nudity. The show moved to Shattered Globe, but then the producers inexplicably closed it. Almost a year later they reopened it at Strawdog with a different director and a younger, prettier, better-endowed but less theatrically adept cast--and lots more gratuitous nudity. This version didn't run forever either.

Now Lepers has been revived again, with James M. Schneider back as director and a strong, comically adept cast. Unfortunately, playwright Neil Labute has spent the years since the original Lepers opened ruining--I mean, fiddling with his script, adding scenes, expanding some roles, and making the play overall much darker and less funny. The original play may have run 90 minutes tops--I was so absorbed I didn't check my watch. This flabbier version runs a good two hours, and the additional 30 minutes pass very slowly indeed. One of the low points of the didactic last half is a long, flaccid monologue that seems to blame white heterosexual males' racism on compulsive masturbation.

Not all of Labute's changes are bad. Will Carpenter's angry young seducer, Man #3, is no longer a stock misogynist but a real, flawed human being. But for every positive change there are two negative ones, and Schneider's strong, character-based direction can't make the show look like its leaner, sexier, funnier, younger self.

--Jack Helbig

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