On the Open Road | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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On the Open Road


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On the Open Road, Journeymen Theater Company. Steve Tesich's 11-year-old script maintains its political currency in this imaginative production. Tesich, who won an Oscar for his highly personal screenplay Breaking Away in 1979, became a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy in later years and devoted himself to increasingly cynical meditations on the human condition. On the Open Road is an affectionate tribute to Beckett--insofar as any play that opens with a hangman's noose and closes with a crucifixion can be labeled affectionate. This intellectually charged script imagines what might happen if two mismatched souls in a postapocalyptic world ordered to assassinate Jesus took responsibility for their actions instead of simply waiting for the inevitable.

Parallels to Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia are obvious, though Tesich, a Yugoslavian native, softens the blows somewhat with ripe epigrams and a bit of gallows humor. Director Frank Pullen tightens the connections, zeroing in on the odd, uncomfortable convergences between gritty reality and stark absurdity. There are echoes of war-torn Kosovo in Pullen's bombed-out set design, and he makes terrific use of the narrow space with a numbingly repetitive staging. But because this production is even more bleak than Tesich's script, Pullen does well to highlight the modest epiphanies--even if Jesse Klug's shadowy lighting ensures you can't see them.

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