Sound of the Train--Variations on a Generation | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

Sound of the Train--Variations on a Generation


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe



Moveable Feast Theatre Company

at Cafe Voltaire

Nobody likes to be called names, especially a name that's both ambiguous and sinister. When the media started referring to people in their 20s as "Generation X," naturally they became defensive. I myself don't take kindly to a label that implies aimlessness, dissolution, and overdoses of MTV. And Sound of the Train--Variations on a Generation, a new comedy revue, is a direct reaction to such pigeonholing. In his director's note, Todd Stashwick says that the group devised this collection of songs and sketches to portray the individuality of people in their 20s, who cannot be so easily defined. "We can either feel we have no identity," he writes, "or choose not to be labeled and define ourselves individually."

Sadly, however, this show is as unfocused and general as the epithet that prompted it. Instead of offering glimpses into the human beings behind the stereotype, this uneven, often confusing mishmash of material suffers from all the ills implied by the term it's battling.

Perhaps the show's most confounding weakness is its structure: short-attention-span sketches that are only occasionally linked thematically. Oddly, most of these scenes have about as much impact as the average music video or commercial, forms the show frequently parodies. Some of these do have some bite, such as a venomous attack on the fascistic Nike slogan "Just do it," complete with a black-shirted Aryan barking "Niketown, Nikeburg, Nikewitz! Train, or be on one!"

But too often the material doesn't develop beyond the heavy-handed point the sketch is trying to make. In one scene a suit-and-tie rebel lures his working buddy to an airstrip in the middle of winter to watch the sunrise, an act of cleansing before they both quit their boring jobs. When the buddy begins to have doubts, the rebel berates him as a coward. But when the rebel reveals that he's done this sort of thing before with other friends at work, we begin to see that one of them might be all talk. The idea of the weekend rebel is clever, but it doesn't grow beyond the premise because the characters are office-worker cutouts stuck onstage to serve the joke.

While these scenes hold some unfulfilled promise, others are downright bewildering. In one a ditzy Gap manager who's brought in huge profits is offered a big-money deal by two fast-talking executives if she'll move to New York. She turns down the deal and the scene ends, but it's not clear whether she refused the job because she doesn't want to live in New York or because she felt the offer wasn't fair given the business she'd generated for the company. And she's so goofy it's hard to believe she'd turn down a $75,000 salary for either reason. Later in the show, two men chat over coffee and share their aspirations and fears as they talk about their fathers. But it's unclear where they are or what has brought them together. The location might be a hospital or nursing home, even a pizza joint. And once again the scene's over before we have an idea why it began in the first place.

Sound of the Train has its moments, especially some clever songs sung by Maria Corell that offer a more personal perspective, but ultimately it's a disappointment. A more focused vision might better have challenged popular notions of the twentysomethings instead of fanning the flames.

Add a comment