POLLING PLACE, Smock Alley Theater, at Center Theater. Sparsely populated, decidedly lethargic polling places in this era hardly seem prime locations for dramatic events. It's to first-time playwright and former Cook County assistant state's attorney Frank Mahon's credit that he's able to deliver a modicum of intrigue in this story of election-day shenanigans during an aldermanic race at a northwest-side voting facility. Most successful is his detail work, demonstrating how parties get out the vote, how voting machines function, and how they can be rigged.
But the main plot--a small-time precinct captain is torn between supporting a reform candidate, which would mean political suicide, and buckling under to the Democratic machine--leaves a lot to be desired. Much of the story feels quite dated, relying on exaggerated conflicts between opposing factions, pat reconciliations, formulaic dialogue, and stock "vote early, vote often" satire of Chicago politics. Though set in the present, Mahon's play inspires nostalgia for the days when local politics created a furor of bribery, civil disobedience, favor peddling, double-dealing, gun toting, and other dirty tricks.
As father and son fighting for opposing candidates, Darryl Warren and Eric Kramer give the proceedings class, charm, and professionalism. In fact there's an earnestness and tenderheartedness throughout that's endearing. But despite these performances and the playwright's good intentions, director Anne Libera's production remains a sitcom, dominated by facile interactions and glib repartee and without much compelling drama.
After this week I'm relocating to New York City, where I'll be working on a yearlong arts journalism fellowship at Columbia University. L'chaim. --Adam Langer