Dystopian horror hides in the creepy undergrowth of Pomona | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Dystopian horror hides in the creepy undergrowth of Pomona

Alistair McDowall’s thriller at Steep plants seeds of money, violence, sex, death . . . and Dungeons and Dragons.

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A woman's search for her missing sister becomes a twisted fable of money, violence, sex, death, and Dungeons and Dragons in Alistair McDowall's creepy Pomona. Once a Victorian rural retreat lush with apple orchards and wildflowers that was developed into the Royal Pomona Palace—a concert hall four times the size of London's Royal Albert Hall, surrounded by magnificent gardens—the island of Pomona declined after an 1887 factory explosion into a wasteland of ruins, weeds, and deserted docks in the Manchester Ship Canal. On this island, once the site of anthropological shows of "human souvenirs" alongside its other entertainments, McDowall envisions a place where a city tucks away its appetites and ills.

Steep Theatre's production, directed by Robin Witt, opens with the flick of a switchblade, quick and sharp as a match striking, on a long, narrow slot of a stage minimally set with pieces made of industrial waste (designed by Joe Schermoly). Ollie (Amber Sallis) is in a car with Zeppo (Peter Moore). In the back seat, a masked figure (Phoebe Moore) broods over D&D dice. Ollie's sister has vanished, but Zeppo refuses to get involved. "I just own everything," he says. "It's not good to get involved in everything." Told in disordered shards, the story that unfolds toggles between dystopian horror and mundane exchanges, presenting a disturbing vision of a world where no one is involved but everyone is affected. The cast is spot-on, with especially effective work by Brandon Rivera as the disarmingly awkward security guard/dungeon master Charlie and Ashlyn Lozano as the gutsy sex worker Fay.   v

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