The City; and Dolores | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The City; and Dolores



THE CITY and DOLORES, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at American Blues Theatre. Two runaway girls driving to the city accidentally kill a dog, which the Bible-reading Jack insists on burying before they resume their journey--a delay to which the less spiritual Bates reluctantly agrees. The internment rituals lead to a theological dispute, however, and soon the two vagabonds find themselves facing off in a literal dogfight to the death.

J.P. Allen's The City can be interpreted in a number of ways. Does Bates represent the old pagan religions? Or the Antichrist? Does Jack's defense of her faith reflect the courage of the Christian soldier or simply the breakdown of outmoded values? Is the story a lesson on the dangers of anthropomorphism? Or a fable about those who live by the sword? Whatever, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's production, directed by Marchel Shipman, never waffles in its sympathies, setting up its conflicts in terms so universal that there is never any doubt about who represents good and evil: who among us can deny the thrill of triumph when the bullied turns upon the bully? Electric, athletic performances by Maureen O'Dowd and Tara Mallen and superb fight choreography by Nick Offerman make the conflict so immediate that we feel compelled to share it.

Unfortunately, this complex and thought-provoking one-act is preceded by Edward Allen Baker's Dolores, a polemic on the problem of domestic abuse (more originally and plausibly treated in Leonard Melfi's 1967 Birdbath). Despite a competent production, the play's central situation--two sisters sitting around the kitchen talking about their ogre husbands--is too static to provide the evidence of abuse and the opportunity for action that might have made us empathize with the characters. The rewards of The City are more than worth the wait, however.

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