The Third Degrees of J.O. Breeze | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Third Degrees of J.O. Breeze

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Curious Theatre Branch, at Angel Island.

During a year that included buying and rehabbing a building, operating a full-service restaurant, and managing its own performance space, Curious Theatre Branch has put out its best work ever, from Bryn Magnus's sublime Invisible Sympathies in summer '94 to Beau O'Reilly's charming Wolfie 'n' Me at the Foul Line last winter. Now Curious takes a quantum leap forward with O'Reilly's The Third Degrees of J.O. Breeze, a stunningly staged, exquisitely performed two-act investigation of the limits of love and compassion.

The menacing but relentlessly personable J.O. Breeze, whose spine and personality are both permanently twisted, interviews applicants for a mysterious job that somehow holds the promise of salvation for all mankind. While the hapless Horace and the street-smart Doris squirm under Breeze's inquisition, the brutish, foulmouthed Captain takes notes and spews insults. The only time Breeze lets up is when one of his victims expresses genuine empathy for him or the Captain, two of the most hateful, mesmerizing, pathetic characters O'Reilly has ever conjured.

O'Reilly's imaginative reelings and florid wordplay saturate the work, but they don't overwhelm the drama as they have sometimes. Clean, spare, and electrifying, J.O. Breeze builds in intensity and intricacy the way the best of David Mamet's plays do. Only in the last 20 minutes, when Doris chases the Captain offstage, is the balance of the play upset and the tension dissipated. Still, the superb cast, led by the seemingly limitlessly talented Paul Tamney as Breeze, capture every nuance of a demanding new script.

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