THE PERSECUTION OF ARNOLD PETCH, A Red Orchid Theatre. In their second artistic collaboration, Stephanie Nelson and Lara Furniss show they're well on their way to becoming the Lennon and McCartney of scenic design. As they did in their improbably lyrical stairway-within-a-cocoon set for Cook County Theatre Department's Tosca, here they take simple, recognizable elements--the spartan furnishings of Arnold Petch's tenement apartment--and give them a mesmerizing twist. Putting 15 feet between the apartment walls and the molding, they seat the audience within this curious gap, packing Petch's room with cockroachlike spies who watch his every move--an ingenious embodiment of the character's rampant paranoia.
However, once that paranoia is established--in the first few scenes Petch explains in depth that everyone is an agent of the "secret police" intent on tormenting him-- playwright David Hauptschein leaves little room for dramatic development, forgetting to provide an animating event that might set the play in motion. Rather than working to defeat or outsmart his imagined adversaries, Petch simply acquiesces, detailing his delusions for the better part of two and a half hours. A pathetic, Gogolian madman, Petch is brought vibrantly to life by actor Michael Shannon, and as always Hauptschein's eye for detail is keen. But since Petch faces no meaningful choices until the play's final ten minutes, he's left with little to do but dawdle.