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Skeleton/Fits and Starts

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SKELETON

Shattered Globe Theatre

FITS AND STARTS

Griffin Theatre Company

Will Kern's Skeleton is the kind of play that made Chicago theater famous. Like David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, it's a Chicago love story, the tale of Annie, a deeply damaged woman, and Edge, the man who loves her desperately. They might be the boy and girl next door: they're young, educated, unemployed, and losing hope. They walk by the lake, and the beach is covered with dead smelt. They fall in love, and their love is painfully hard to bear.

Kern adds just the right amount of warmth and humor to soften the blows of his harsh story, and the result is a compelling drama, full of wit and sweet sadness. In a late-night production at Shattered Globe, under the direction of Wilson Milam, with Rebecca Jordan playing Annie and Jeff Still as Edge, Skeleton is an almost perfect show, beautiful, tragic, and hopeful all at once. And it handles a terribly delicate subject with admirable finesse.

Kern (who also wrote the long-running late-night favorite Hellcab) doesn't play with dramatic conventions much in Skeleton. In the first scene, Edge and Annie hook up at a party. They've known each other for a while, and on this night Edge confesses he's been crazy about Annie for a long time. He admits that he's been unemployed for ages and hasn't had a girlfriend in years. Then he asks Annie if he can spend the night with her. More than a little drunk, she agrees.

Their relationship unfolds in short scenes as they slowly grow more intimate. Edge learns that Annie is always overcome with remorse after making love, and realizes that she's never made love with him sober. When he presses her on the subject, she tells him she's never had sex sober and to back off. Annie begins to pull away. She tells Edge she can't give him anything because she just doesn't have it to give.

Then one day they do it sober. In the next scene, Annie is talking with her therapist about how great the sex was physically and how painful the experience was emotionally. In the following scene, Annie meets Edge in a church and convinces him to make love right there on a pew. Then she backs off from the relationship, holing up in her apartment and refusing to answer his calls.

With the help of the bartender at his favorite bar, Edge figures out why Annie's gotten so upset, and the story takes a poignant turn. The situation is as painful for Edge as it is for Annie, and the resolution Kern provides doesn't necessarily improve things for either of them.

Skeleton is an emotionally exhausting play and requires a tremendous degree of honesty in the actors. Still and Jordan are seamless, playing off each other's characters beautifully. Still has perfect dramatic timing, and Jordan gives her character just the right amount of quirkiness to indicate her emotional turmoil. Even Martin Duffy as the bartender, with no more than ten lines, speaks volumes with his eyes, interjecting a glance at just the right moment in Annie and Edge's conversations. It seems director Milam has created an atmosphere in which every element of this play can shine.

Griffin Theatre Company's Fits and Starts, another late-night production, tells the story of Babs, a frustrated young housewife: her mother pesters her for grandbabies, her husband is shallow and self-obsessed, and her best friend is a silly talking dog. I think it's meant to be a madcap comedy, but at its best Grace McKeaney's play is an insipid oddity. When the dog switches his loyalties to Babs's mother because she cooks for him, Babs swallows some Drano and walks on up to heaven. There's got to be something that made this one-act worth producing, but neither the cast nor director G. Scott Thomas has been able to ferret it out.

The set is a somewhat interesting combination of fake rocks (the sort you'd find at Great America) covered with a junk collection (the sort you'd find at the White Elephant). But other than the set, there's little reason to see Fits and Starts. The characters are poorly developed, their relationships are shallow, and their story is not worth learning.

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