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Sweet Land of Liberty

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SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY, LeftEye Productions at O Bar & Cafe, and Theatre Q at the Halsted Street Cafe. With politicians on all sides using the bugaboo of same-sex marriage to score easy points with conservatives, this 1989 one-act by east-coast lesbian playwright Christi Stewart-Brown is especially timely. Set in a future America where Pat Buchanan's "holy war" has been won by the moralistic right wing, this dystopian satire concerns two same-sex couples, one male and one female, who pose as married heterosexuals to deceive their friendly fascist overseer Officer Weiss, who periodically barges into their apartment to conduct spot urine tests and check whether the women are pregnant. (In this Aryan nation, where everyone colors their hair blond and the government radio newscaster's name is Eric LeBlanc, making babies is a "sacred duty" and homosexuality unthinkable.)

But Stewart-Brown undermines her premise by making the protagonists childlike to the point of inanity: apparently unemployed, they spend most of their time playing silly games and acting like peevish, purposeless preadolescents. While their goofy behavior is occasionally amusing, it robs the play of the credibility it needs to be an election-year warning--which is what the producers of these two simultaneous Chicago productions intend. Perhaps the playwright's point is that social oppression has stunted the characters emotionally, but her weak, buffoonish gay men and kooky lesbians merely reinforce cliches of homosexuality as a state of arrested development. By the time the action turns serious--when the foursome take Weiss hostage--the audience just doesn't care.

These rival stagings in two Wrigleyville taverns are the result of artistic differences between director Nadine C. Warner and a troupe called Theatre Q; when Warner launched a new company, LeftEye Productions, to present the work's Chicago premiere in mid-September, Theatre Q followed with its own version two weeks later. While both stagings have their merits, neither overcomes the script's muddle of cartoon humor and political anger. Theatre Q's director, Jeffrey Hoffman, achieves a brisker pace with a more balanced and comically gifted cast, while Warner's more serious approach makes the script's logical gaps fatally apparent. Ironically, LeftEye's most effective portrayal is of Weiss: Edward Dzialo makes the character's anxiety at being held hostage so palpable that the audience's sympathy goes to him instead of his captors--surely not what Stewart-Brown intended.

--Albert Williams

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