Support Groups Anonymous and Witness | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Support Groups Anonymous and Witness

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Support Groups Anonymous and Witness, New Mercury Theatre Company, at Cafe Voltaire. Virtually without merit, these two one-acts are marred in the playing, the writing, or both, depicting American misfits with such thudding obviousness it's hard to believe Terrence McNally perpetrated one of them.

Witness is an early work (perhaps an excuse for its puerility) that takes a heavy-handed look at a clump of amoral Americans gathered to watch a presidential motorcade. The homicidal host, who's kidnapped an encyclopedia salesman to "witness" the assassination, blames the cipherlike president for his own failures. This scapegoating wretch is joined by two kindred souls, a racist window washer and a horny yuppie pollster. And as it turns out, everybody wants to kill the president.

Rodger D. Kurth's staging adds little texture to McNally's unsubtle, tiresome pseudo satire, while David Beck as the bland assassin never refuses an obvious acting choice. Kurth's own play, Support Groups Anonymous, takes aim at a morally bankrupt self-help talk show, unsurprisingly feeding on its viewers' miseries and their craving for easy answers. No wit freshens the formulas or stirs the stereotypes: the smarmy, tax-dodging host overflows with empty psychobabble and pious affirmations, and his guests--dysfunctional Perot supporters--are miserably mired in familiar insecurities. The cast (Beck, Django Reinhart Baker, Cat Dean, and Timothy Gettemy) sleepwalk through the cultural cliches. You've seen it all on "Saturday Night Moribund," and this is little better. --Lawrence Bommer

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