Playing Dumb with Jill Benjamin | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Playing Dumb with Jill Benjamin

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Playing Dumb With Jill Benjamin, at Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio. Love may be the universal language, but every subculture garbles it differently, and translating romantic absurdities requires a writer-performer to be both familiar with and distant from the milieu she describes. A lack of perspective is the problem here: Jill Benjamin is smart, talented, and funny, but the humor of Playing Dumb remains specific to the assumptions and experience of a mildly disaffected participant in the young urban mating rituals she sends up. To be fair, ideological cousins like Sex and the City prove how widely appealing such narrow material can be, and the audience laughed a lot the night I attended. Still, this show reinforces more stereotypes than it illuminates.

Aside from a couple of improvisational bits (shy audience members beware), it's all technically polished stuff. The script is sprinkled with surefire gags, Peter Gwinn's direction is lively and assured, and Benjamin and Peter Grosz (as a variety of Ken-doll foils) do acrobatic character work, their rapport as practiced as a trapeze duo's. But as the sketches and monologues involving stroller-pushing mommies at Starbuck's, goonish pickup artists at the gym, weaselly sensitive guys, borderline date rape, bachelorette parties, sorority rush, and serial nightclub dating pile up, the self-perpetuating cartoonishness of the underlying worldview grows tiresome--and not a little depressing.

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