Speaking in Tongues | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Speaking in Tongues


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SPEAKING IN TONGUES, Famous Door Theatre Company, at Theatre Building Chicago. Mickey Mouse observed that it's a small world after all. Speaking in Tongues adds that it's a tawdry one, too. In the first half of this 1996 script--later reworked for the film Lantana--Andrew Bovell introduces us to a pair of middle-aged couples in a farcical situation: they've accidentally swapped spouses for a night. Bovell isn't laughing, however; he treats these folks with utmost seriousness. Then, in the second half, he finds other folks to treat with utmost seriousness.

The overall message has to do with the paradox of the lonely crowd: the ways in which city life simultaneously enforces intense solitude and extreme interdependence. But Bovell delivers the message so baldly--yet pretentiously--that the interconnectedness of his characters comes across as a set of arty contrivances. Rather than accept his grim comment on modern life, we find ourselves playing Count the Coincidences. Lantana makes much better use of this material by placing it in the context of a murder investigation.

Bovell's failure is especially unfortunate because this production is so very good. I loved John C. Stark's sleek, witty set, featuring glass cases in which artifacts from the play are exhibited as if for sale. The quartet of actors under Calvin MacLean's direction is endearing in its anomic awkwardness. Even given the script's weaknesses, it would not be a waste of time to see this show. Then, if you want, you can rent Lantana.

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