The Burning Man | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Burning Man


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Saint Sebastian Players, at Saint Bonaventure Church.

Those who appreciate the exaggerated characters and neat justice of whodunits will find classic satisfaction in Saint Sebastian Players' production of Tim J. Kelly's The Burning Man, but the play doesn't offer much enlightenment to anyone hoping for a deeper probe into human psychology. Set in a wealthy recluse's remote hunting lodge (on a dark and stormy night yet), the script employs characters right off the Clue board, brought together for the reading of the recluse's husband's will: besides this bitter aristocrat we meet the dead husband's niece and cousin (one young lady intellectual and reserved, the other a sweet ingenue), a suspicious butler, the professional but aloof lawyer, the Dragnet-ish detective, and, for comic relief, an eager rookie cop.

Kelly's stiff, often cliched language makes these characters seem more like folks playing a game, pretending to be characters, than real people with depth and authenticity. Many of the actors do breathe some life into these creatures, however: Jonathan Hagloch plays detective Charlie Underwood with a natural cynicism that brings the play down to earth, and Marc H. Raben moves beyond stereotype as the cop Peter Tanner and lightens up some of the more melodramatic moments. The entire ensemble put out a lot of effort, but ultimately they fall victim to the limitations of the script, which depicts a neater world than our own. For those willing to put the reality of the messy human condition aside, however, it's as satisfying as a round of Clue--we know there will be answers in that little brown envelope.

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