A small theater in Chicago performs a play about a small theater in Chicago | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A small theater in Chicago performs a play about a small theater in Chicago

Red Bowl at the Jeffs is a delightful metadrama.

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There's something wonderfully firsthand about this brilliant new work from playwright Beth Hyland and the Sound, directed by Rebecca Willingham. To begin with, it's a small theater in Chicago performing a play about small theater in Chicago. Red Bowl Ensemble, a fictional company, have netted several Non-Equity Jeff Award nominations this year for their production of Chekhov's Three Sisters, and here they are at the Jeffs, in jumpsuits, jackets, and a very memorable cape, ready to face the music and disparage the competition. Willingham gets supremely unguarded performances out of her top-notch young cast, as though everyone had been in this ballroom before, sipped these same drinks, and worn these same embarrassing ribbons that say NOMINEE on them. For viewers with local theater mileage this show has enough to recommend it simply as a confection of dead-on in-jokes about the incestuous storefront scene, but it handles its Chicagoness well, never feeling too fringy or deep-dished out.

Indeed, anybody with a past in theater, or who ever made art with friends, or who ever played Would You Rather between Shakespeare and Chekhov (Chekhov wins, naturally: those glasses!), will find plenty to love here. There's a cute but unnecessary coda, and though the good doctor's ghost presides here, all right—in Hyland's livid pauses and the superb Georgi McCauley's injured wit if nowhere else—the use of Three Sisters as background is inconsistent. Nevertheless, Red Bowl is humble Chicago theater at its finest.   v

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