Playback! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

PLAYBACK!, Playback Theatre Midwest, at the Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio. This show is based on two hippie-dippy notions: that people randomly chosen from the audience will have interesting stories to tell, and that the only thing more interesting than hearing about, say, someone's trip to New Zealand is watching a troupe of young improvisers re-create the trip onstage.

Well, the Playback folks are half right. As Tim Sauers, the show's likable, sensitive interviewer, proves again and again, there are plenty of fascinating stories--all you have to do is gently coax them out of the audience. And there's something refreshing about the awkward, often halting, always idiosyncratic way that audience volunteers talk about their lives.

But when it comes to the second premise, nothing the company can come up with compares to the immediacy and power of hearing the story the first time around. Part of the problem is that, for reasons I can't fathom, Sauers repeats the story's main points before the troupe performs, thus robbing the presentation of any shred of spontaneity. An even bigger problem is that the troupe "plays back" the stories so quickly and unimaginatively that the experience is a lot like watching a movie on fast forward. Only it's less engaging.

--Jack Helbig

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