Wax and Wayne | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Wax and Wayne

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Local Infinities' new show uses candle wax--300 pounds of it, according to a press release--as the matrix for an intriguing, smart, wholly accessible meditation on creative identity, power, transformation, and sacrifice. The nearly wordless piece begins with both Local Infinities cofounders onstage. Meghan Strell plays Wax, covered head to toe in ivory paraffin, standing perfectly still on a pedestal like a latter-day Galatea. Meanwhile Charlie Levin throws hot wax on a sheet of Plexiglas and begins painting what turns out to be a creation myth. Then Wayne (Larry Underwood) enters, clad in a shabby suit and wearing a shaggy toupee, and begins wooing his wax lady with offerings of fruit. Slowly she begins shedding her wax exterior--first a finger, then the entire hand--and before long she's peeling off all her skin and annoying her presumed creator with her experiments, "accidentally" dropping various items into the pots of bubbling wax center stage, tearing off his cheesy rug, etc. At the end of the piece their positions are reversed, as Underwood submerges himself in a cylinder of 140-degree wax. In the un-air-conditioned National Pastime space, I had to admire the stamina of both performers in slathering themselves with hot wax. But what really lifts this piece above the level of a junior high science experiment is the tremendous sympathy between Strell and Underwood, whose puppy-dog desire to please, melded with growing impatience at Strell's meddling, owes a debt to Charlie Chaplin. A veteran of the internationally acclaimed Dutch company Dogtroep, Underwood tackles the part with verve and concentration, and Strell brings a sly naivete to the wax idol's awakening. Levin paints in bright and effulgent colors, Tom Howe provides textured aural accompaniment (using such objects as goblets and a bicycle wheel), and Lookingglass vet John Musial directs with aplomb. Overall the experience of Wax and Wayne is breathtaking in its intertwined intelligence and emotional openness. National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway, 312-560-7051. Through August 25: Thursday-Sunday, 8 PM. $15.

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