The Surreal World | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Surreal World



THE SURREAL WORLD, Factory Theater. When reincarnation's dizzying wheel has spun its last, what will you have learned? Jill Rothamer and Jeff Wallenfeldt riff on that very question in this play about a narcissistic God who sentences seven souls to repeated interlocked lives. With their new bodies, the characters have a chance to let go of their selfish natures, under the watchful video-camera eye of their smug creator. It's an amusing premise marred by a nonsensical coup, as the actors and playwrights retreat into aimless anarchy, perhaps facilitated by writer-director-actor Rothamer and writer-actor Wallenfeldt.

But the three incarnations are fast-paced, playful meditations on youth rebellion in the 20th century: the speakeasy culture, the beat generation, and the Deadhead phenomenon. The sharp-tongued imitations of beat poetry are funny if long-winded. And fortunately the increasingly shrill scenes are interrupted by God's video entertainments, the cruel deity's marvelously idiotic puppet shows.

Unfortunately, most of the characterizations are too bald to sustain the premise beyond shtick. The incomprehensible accents of the immigrant Italians in the first incarnation are only one example of the sloppiness that undercuts the play. It's as if the bold impulse to parody sanctimonious dogma were swallowed up by Rothamer's directorial urge to play with TV stereotypes: the resulting romp is more goofy than surreal. Maybe the next revolution--of the wheel of revision--will fulfill the play's genuinely wily surreal promise.

--Carol Burbank

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