ROMANCA, Chicago Actors Ensemble. The Chicago Actors Ensemble fail on a higher intellectual plane than the one on which most Chicago theater companies succeed. So while Jacek Chmielnik's Romanca certainly isn't perfect, it's unpredictable and challenging enough to keep one intrigued for 75 minutes. Translated from the Polish by Charles Kraszewski, the play echoes Frisch, Pirandello, Borges, and Calvino in the way it allows audience members and actors to switch places, subverting their traditional roles.
It opens with a highly emotive production of an Elizabethan romantic tragedy, which is soon interrupted by a belligerent audience member's demands that the pair of actors onstage address reality instead of trying to escape it through poetry. This sets off a chain of increasingly complicated plot twists: the material is never boring, but it's nothing that hasn't been done better elsewhere. At least in this translation, Chmielnik lacks either Pirandello's wit or Frisch's intelligence, resulting in a numbing sort of rote playfulness. The play succeeds occasionally on an intellectual level, but never once on an emotional one.
CAE's production is further hampered by Edward Pinkowski. Unconvincing as one of the interrupted actors, he fails to understand the distinction between effectively portraying a bad actor and just plain bad acting. He fights with his echo in CAE's cavernous performance space and, in this case, the echo wins, detracting from some nice work by Carri Levinson and an uncredited third performer. Peter Wright's set, reminiscent of the foreboding chateau in Alain Resnais' creepily deconstructionist Last Year at Marienbad, makes excellent use of one of the coolest theater spaces around.