The Futile Palace | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Futile Palace

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Promise Productions, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, South Hall

"You have seen prison plays before," cautions Ben, one of two Latin American political prisoners in a basement laundry room, "full of courage and will and survival, but do not expect our theater to comfort you. You will find no affirmation here."

His pronouncement seems a promising beginning to Brian Phillips's drama, said to be inspired by his work with Amnesty International. But because we have seen prison plays before, by the time the activist professor Ben and the pacifist priest Alex interrupt their curiously unguarded discussions to mock the audience for what they say we're thinking, we've guessed that one of them will soon (a) declare his love for the other, (b) betray the other to their captors, or (c) die, leaving the survivor broken in despair.

As it turns out, all three things happen, over a series of scenes first didactic, then romantic--culminating in the usual welter of anguished tears. Promise Productions do what they can with Phillips's well-meant but unoriginal The Futile Palace: faced with dialogue that could easily be played with books on stools, director Edward Sobel decides to provide visual/kinetic "interest," including the obligatory Pieta pose. Timothy Jenkins and Shawn Douglass labor valiantly to make their cardboard characters plausible, dutifully waxing intellectual, emotional, or physical as the script demands. But all their efforts cannot redeem a play fully as generic as those its author so loftily disdains.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Brian McConkey.

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