The House That Jack Built | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

The House That Jack Built

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, Congo Square Theatre Company, at Theatre Building Chicago. Javon Johnson sets his weird, witty fable in a halfway house where five ex-cons struggle to stay straight with assistance from a zealous parole officer and a prostitute named Grace. The magic realism of this world premiere takes getting used to, but soon we accept English speakers praying in Arabic and spiritual instructions arriving by pay phone. Johnson's rogues' gallery includes Mitch (the excellent Gary Saipe), whose fortune--made in Avon products--disappeared when he killed his wife; now he's reduced to trying to kill the neighbors' dog and being called "Skin So Soft" by the others. There are also brothers Basil and James, who hold each other responsible for the same murder; Austin, unhinged by discovering his girlfriend was a man; and a youngster who killed his father as a gang initiation. Each character has his moment, as does the prostitute, but the parole officer (TaRon Patton, serious as a heart attack in the midst of absurd goings-on) remains a cipher despite her pivotal role.

Director Derrick Sanders evokes strong performances from all, particularly Will Sims II as James, whose god is crack; Sean Nix as his annoyingly good brother; and Stephen Spencer as insane Austin, who takes Biblical injunctions literally. Johnson's religious symbolism is simultaneously playful and powerful, and his debt to Sartre and Dostoyevsky elegantly paid.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment