The Magic Act | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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The Magic Act, Zebra Crossing Theatre. In Laurence Klavan's black comedy the audience experiences simultaneously the romanticized story of a young couple's descent into a loveless, perverse marriage through courtroom testimony and the sensational story of their murder through the tabloid-style reports of television news anchors. Mona Kale, the play's narrator, is a desperately lonely misfit and high school friend of the couple who now stands accused of killing them, and the press is foaming at the mouth to convict her. But ultimately Klavan makes this Mona's play: the humor and humanity of her longing and alienation enable us to examine who society labels a loser.

Unfortunately, much of the script's supposedly surreal satire never packs the promised punch: the television reporters, and even the tabloids Mona quotes from, seem simply slice-of-life theater in the climate of Hard Copy news. The young couple's backgrounds do mock the extremes of the world we see on television--Alan comes from a home of stand-up comedians where life is like a sitcom with an ever-playing laugh track, while Annabelle comes from a house of misery where her mother's woes rival those of any guest on Sally Jessy Raphael. But their nonfeeling marriage is run-of-the-mill soap-opera material.

Director Kay Martinovich's strong ensemble keeps the piece engaging and usually funny, however. Jane Windler's bold portrayal of Mona makes us feel the desperation of the outsider in a world that grants happiness only to the thin, slick, and beautiful. And Robert G. Smith's creative cartoonish set achieves the theatricality Klavan attempts in the script. --Gabrielle S. Kaplan

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