Take It Deep | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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TAKE IT DEEP, AKA Theater Collective, at Wing & Groove Theatre. Like the memoir novel, the autobiographical play is definitely enjoying a boom, mostly I suspect because anyone can do it. Playwright Ben Byer has thankfully taken the next step, constructing a lively fiction from his experience in the door-to-door meat-sales racket. His models are apparent--think a slapstick Glengarry Glen Ross viewed through the prism of In the Company of Men--but gracefully acknowledged. And his characters, though composites of "morally wanting" business acquaintances, are vibrant in their own right. Take It Deep runs a little long, and its plot is slightly too simple, but this production's taut pacing, whip-sharp direction, and stellar cast knock Byer's promising pitch out of the ballpark.

There's a lot of black humor that's potentially offensive to the sensitive viewer, which director Dado wisely plays neither up nor down, gradually generating laughs instead of simply selling jokes. Most borderline is Tourette's-afflicted salesman Guy, but the amazing Eric Johnson disappears into the role and becomes the show's funniest and most sympathetic character. Shannon O'Neill is equally impressive as kept woman Renee, working wordless boredom and dopey double takes so well as to make the part seem overunderwritten by design. As stupid but cuddly backstabber Roger, Matt Scharff is a savvier Brad Pitt, anchoring the show with his goofy white-boy ebonics. And Frank Dominelli carries off the most demanding, problematic role--as written, desperate alpha male Gary is a shade too unlikable--with electric mastery.

--Brian Nemtusak

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