Savage in Limbo: A Concert Play/The Two of Them | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Savage in Limbo: A Concert Play/The Two of Them


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D & K Productions

at Cafe Voltaire


Pure and Simple Productions and Powertap Productions

at Cafe Voltaire

There is so much to dislike about this John Patrick Shanley play, now being performed by D & K Productions at Cafe Voltaire, that it's hard to know where to begin. I might start with the plot--if there were one, but there's only five misfits in a seamy Bronx bar trying to unravel the mysteries of their very limited universe, never straying far from their designated bar stools in the attempt. It's not exactly a play, but it wouldn't be fair to call Savage in Limbo a collection of character sketches either, since Shanley substitutes stereotype for character whenever possible. His women define themselves mostly through their relationships (or lack thereof) with men, and his condescending take on blue-collar Italian American guys as too dumb to do anything but bang broads and work on cars is not so much offensive as it is tiresome. We get a dour but (surprise!) good-hearted bartender (Ian Roberts) and an offhandedly wise lush (Carolyn Serren, delivering the best performance of the show). We also get a lot of profanity, which Shanley may have considered visceral when he wrote it but emerges in this production as just barely banal.

The savage of the title is Denise Savage (Deanna Leigh Schreiber), a 32-year-old office worker who still lives with her mother and is searching for a man to have a real conversation with, although she doesn't seem to have much to offer beyond the revelation that she's a lonely virgin. She strikes up a tenuous friendship with Linda (Kay Martinovich), who's just been dumped by Tony (John J. Dalesandro). Linda, who wears a very short skirt and see-through blouse, likes sex; she's been pregnant three times, loves her louse of a boyfriend, and is fascinated by the fact that Denise is a real live virgin. Tony's explanation for leaving Linda is that he wants to date "ugly women," though what he means is "smart women." Unfortunately for Tony, he's too dumb to say what he means. Denise, suddenly forgetting her passion for conversation, decides she wants Tony, who clearly doesn't have an idea in his head, and the evening disintegrates into a sort of catfight over this prize.

The actors here, despite varying degrees of talent and Eileen Vorbach's static staging, seem to be having a great time, and it's easy to see why. Shanley has given them the opportunity to wallow in states of high emotion and sloppy angst without having to go through the dull business of establishing story or nuance. Everything's overt. There doesn't seem to be any subtext. When Linda inquires, after an acidic remark from Denise, "Are you being nasty to me?" Denise replies, "No, that's just the way I am. I'm lonely." Who needs nuance when you can simply say what's on your mind? Although it might be useful in avoiding whiny dialogue like "No one loves me, I feel fat . . . my life sucks." True, this is something you might hear someone in a bar say, but at that point it's usually wise to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom or call for another beer in order to keep from slapping the speaker silly. None of these options were open to the audience. If you've ever sat in a bar stone sober and silent while everyone around you cried into his or her beer, you have an idea of what it's like to sit through Savage in Limbo.

"The Two of Them," a pair of pleasant, slightly fluffy one-acts about romantic relationships, could have been stultifying in the hands of anyone less competent than actors David Razowsky and Kate McClanaghan. Director Sandy Morris keeps these two moving briskly through the rough spots, but mostly they rely on their own warm personalities and professional gloss to keep the romantic fluff from sagging and the audience's interest from wandering.

Dorothy Parker's Here We Are, which takes place in the 1920s, follows a young couple's conversation as they make their way by train to their honeymoon destination. They've been married two hours and 26 minutes, but "it seems like longer." Slowly they begin to become resigned to personality quirks in each other that they had assumed would disappear with the onset of marriage. Every so often they pause to reassure themselves that they're going to be very happy together, that married life will be "just great." Not a terribly provocative statement about marriage, but McClanaghan and Razowsky are terribly entertaining, recalling Ray Bolger and Billie Burke and all the innocence of romance in an earlier age. It's a nice setup for the second, longer play, McClanaghan's Bathroom.

Here we have a modern-day couple who've been living together for two months but seem to know less about each other than Parker's newlyweds. Kate decides to abandon the relationship, but just as she's about to slip out quietly Eliot comes home from work and catches her in the act. She locks herself in the bathroom, declaring that their relationship is meaningless--all they ever talk about is food and sex. "Come out," Eliot pleads through the door. "I'll make lunch." Instead she camps out in the bathroom, questioning their relationship while he sits outside the door and justifies it; in the process each discovers who the other person is.

McClanaghan has an ear for snappy dialogue but a weakness for romantic cliche: "I love the way you wake up in the morning" and other such misty Hallmark sentiments emerge from time to time. These lapses are easily forgivable if you're romantic by nature, and it's interesting to watch the two actors work an argument convincingly through an imaginary door. Here and there it drags--an hour is quite a long time for an audience to be stuck in a bathroom, however funky and fun Dan Tomko's wooden toilet. There's not enough in there for Kate to do, and Eliot mostly just paces outside the door. Without Razowsky and McClanaghan's rapport together, it's impossible to say whether Bathroom would have kept its head above water.

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

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