The Blank Page | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Theatre of Serviceable Villains, at Urbus Orbis.

As the title of this new one-act suggests, Reader contributor Adam Langer aims for, and mostly pulls off, a Front Page for the blank generation. Like the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur classic, this account of the goings-on at a Wicker Park magazine called "The Alternative" (not unlike Subnation, which Langer edited until it stopped publishing) uses a glib, witty surface to convey serious concerns about the media and the culture it mirrors. Behind Langer's snappy dialogue, peppered with salty one-liners and acid sarcasm, is an evident concern for a valueless generation of counterculture consumers that revels in its own shallow trendiness.

Fluidly directed by Edward Cheetham and deftly acted by a young cast whose low-key, rapid-fire delivery of overlapping lines recalls Howard Hawks's Front Page remake, His Girl Friday, this behind-the-scenes portrait focuses on escalating clashes among the magazine's staffers. They include a flaky, flamboyant publisher whose credo is "Nobody reads" (and whose practice is nobody gets paid); an editor more concerned with his "editorial prerogative" than the quality of the writing; a dope-peddling ad salesman; a kiss-ass business manager; a pretentious music critic; a temperamental art director; and two writers whose naive idealism expresses Langer's belief in the importance of language but also his anxiety that there's nothing left to say.

Though funny, the characters sometimes come too close to caricature; and Langer takes too long to develop his conflict. But his ear for dialogue is sharp and so are his arguments, making for a thoughtful, entertaining contemporary comedy.

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