(Non)Fiction fails to convince us of its premise | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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(Non)Fiction fails to convince us of its premise

Jillian Leff's world premiere for Right Brain Project offers a fantasy version of the publishing world.


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Playwright Jillian Leff's tale of a rookie novelist whose big break depends on her ability to convert her partner's trauma into a commercial blockbuster is an eye roller. Long story short: there is so much to side-eye in the Right Brain Project's 90-minute, four-person drama that you might well leave with improved peripheral vision. Directed by Kathi Kaity, (Non)fiction wades toward the preposterous before wholly diving into the deep end of what-even-is-this folderol.

The first problem is Leff's premise that a young, unpublished novelist would get life-changing money for a first-time book that is still in the process of being written—in longhand no less. Maybe a fairy-tale-godmother publishing house would offer that kind of deal to, say, a Kardashian. But Stephanie (Maddy Bernhard) is no celebrity. And while her partner, Mike (Justin Verstraete), and his cousin, Emma (Cristiana Barbatelli), express varying degrees of outrage at having their lives appropriated, it's tough to invest in their ostensible pain because it rings so hollow and sounds so perfunctory. The second problem is this: Instead of digging deep, Leff merely draws a faint outline around Mike and Emma's nightmarish shared past. It's a shallow, milquetoast treatment at best. Finally: it doesn't help even a little that Leff has created a full-on cartoon stereotype agent (Tim Lee) who seems like an extra in a middle-school reading of an unauthorized Entourage episode. (Non)Fiction doesn't end so much as it fizzles out. Nothing is really resolved, but that doesn't really matter because nothing is particularly memorable either.   v

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