The Aspidistra Code | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Aspidistra Code

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The Aspidistra Code, Steep Theatre Company, at Bailiwick Repertory. As if to prove he's a kick-ass writer who can stake his testosterone levels against the likes of Mamet and Tarantino, Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe offers a 90-minute marathon of drinking, smoking, screaming, gallows humor, gambling, tall tales, petty squabbling, and--inevitably--gunfire.

O'Rowe holds the audience hostage by making a debt-ridden couple, Brendan and Sonia, wait interminably for the Drongo, a vicious loan shark, to arrive. Brendan's brother Joe and his neighbor Ronnie offer, respectively, bravery and morality. They're not enough to protect the couple, however. Their hope lies instead in Crazy Horse, a do-good punker. Just as violent as the Drongo, Crazy Horse has his own outlaw code and might be open to switching sides. The men talk a lot about the rules they play by, but the climactic shoot-out offers no moral resolution.

Dana Friedman's slam-bang Steep Theatre staging, a U.S. premiere, maintains the stark tension of this dark comedy, focused on scaring the audience and proving how petty folks can be when their lives are at stake. Essentially an actors' exercise, The Aspidistra Code aims to create the opposite of grace under pressure, and the young cast play O'Rowe's power games for all they're worth. But they end up with too much sound and fury signifying nothing.

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