Thursday, November 22, 2007

Smart

I'm intrigued by this recent review (11/16) of a new production at the Side Project theatre on Jarvis. Sounds like it's worth a visit.

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The Side Project, located in a burgeoning section of Rogers Park called Jarvis Square, is the kind of pocket-sized space where an audience of 30 constitutes a sellout.

To its credit, the Side Project space is flexible enough to withstand some fiddling around with the seating arrangements -- a concept on full display in a very good world premiere last weekend.

In Robert Fieldsteel's "Smart," two alienated teenagers concoct a seriously flawed plan to murder for money. The premise is based on the actual murders of two Dartmouth College professors in 2001, and director Adam Webster situates the audience in a long, single line across one wall, as if collective witness to a timeline scrambled in 3-D. The story of the messed-up teens (deftly played by Ricky Gamboa and Joel Vining) is augmented by that of a psychology student who is studying the crime (Evan Linder) and his pain-in-the-neck girlfriend Cathy (Kristen Secrist), who projects all her internal dissatisfaction on the guy she's dating.

There are lot of currents running through the play, and they mostly center on the chafing that anyone -- but especially an adolescent -- feels when the future (and even the present) looms like a trap. As Fieldsteel points out, no matter how smart you are, some people take longer to grow up than others.

The show features some exceptionally detailed performances -- J. Kingsford Goode and Steve Ratcliff play the murdered couple as well as the criminal investigators -- but the play spends too much time on Cathy, who is prone to eye-rolling and faux intellectualism. She is meant to be stunted and juvenile -- just like the boys in prison -- but as written and performed here, she is entirely dismissible. If you can get past the issues with her character, the production unearths more than a few emotions that feel universal and unfaked. Adolescence can be a train wreck, and no one is immune.

Through Dec. 16 at 1439 W. Jarvis St.; $15 at 773-973-2150.

-- Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune

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