Rock Paper Sister | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Rock Paper Sister


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Rock Paper Sister, Hope and Nonthings Productions, at the Firehouse. Chicago playwright Ian Pierce, like the late great Joe Orton, understands that death seasons farce as exquisitely as rosemary seasons artichoke. When Mort Dwindle, eighth-generation cemetery keeper, runs out of plots, he hits upon a plan: he'll start stacking corpses, "move the gravestones closer together and make the bumps smaller." His guileless nephew Markus decides to help, realizing that the only way to avoid bankruptcy and sacrilege is to marry the single corpses before piling them up, offering a certificate and a small rebate to the closest living relatives. As Uncle Mort declares, "You'd be surprised what people will do if the money is right."

Greed, death, defilement, postmortem consummation--Orton would be proud. But unfortunately Pierce doesn't develop his delightfully ghoulish premise in an Orton-like manner, and Rock Paper Sister remains at a virtual standstill. Part of the problem is an unwillingness to dramatize the characters' dilemmas; Markus spends weeks (essentially the entire show) trying to find a suitable dead bride for a favored dead groom, for example, but Pierce doesn't show us why the task befuddles him so. Markus's repeated lamentations end up as empty rhetoric.

Pierce encourages his characters to philosophize about love, death, and the ephemeral nature of existence. But without a solid dramatic foundation, these musings are aimless and awkward. In his last play, Living in the Present Tense, Pierce ingeniously squeezed profundity from an absurdist farce, allowing the complications to drive his characters to greater and greater extremes. He could take a lesson from himself.

--Justin Hayford

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/ Carlson.

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