Tough! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Tough!, Smash Theatre, at WNEP Theater. George F. Walker's approach to playwriting is to let loose a number of provoking personalities in a provocative situation. In Tough! it's an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and the characters are a teenage mother, a girlfriend who vows to support and protect her--with her fists, if necessary--and a whimpery teenage boy who might be the child's father.

The extreme youth of Walker's characters perhaps excuses their tediously naive observations on male-female relations, but actorly intervention is necessary if they're to hold our attention. Director Jared Leal rejects easy solutions in this midwest-premiere production, presenting these three waifs not as street-smart derelicts in training nor as two vengeful "feminazis" bullying a lone chromosome-impaired victim but as poor but fundamentally honest kids trying to do the right thing in a world where that goal is increasingly elusive.

The actors work hard to infuse Walker's superficial stereotypes with plausible motives rooted in individual and social contexts. Justin O'Connor's Bobby is the picture of slacker irresponsibility, while Dana Wise gives the ambivalent mother a capable dignity. But the performance that dominates and ultimately elevates the show is Amanda Pajer's as the feisty pal; wholly committed and sensitive to the moment, she gives the role a bristling kinetic energy.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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