Chicago Tribune review for "The Park Bench Plays"

Theater review, 'The Park Bench Plays' at the Equity Library Theatre
Bench plays finally get their chance in the spotlight

By Richard Christiansen

Within its modest means, Equity Library Theatre over the last year has been offering an inventive series of programs keyed to the theme of "Greatest American Playwrights of the 20th Century." Instead of simply presenting shows that offer work to actors between engagements, the series' carefully chosen productions have included Eugene O'Neill's long, rarely revived "Strange Interlude," the Chicago premiere of Tennessee Williams' "Vieux Carre" and short plays by William Inge, in a staging that later played at the annual Inge theater festival in Independence, Kans.

The latest installment in the series is "The Park Bench Plays," an evening of three one-acts that involve violent encounters on or near a park bench.

In the staging at Breadline Theatre, the same park bench is the sole bit of scenery for each play. It's a clever concept, but not so practical in reality, since only one of the three off-Broadway dramas, Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story," qualifies as the work of a great playwright, John Guare's "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year" and Israel Horovitz's "Shooting Gallery" being shorter, minor efforts.

Albee's piece, directed by Lauren Golanty, has lost none of its power since its 1960 American debut. Its story of an alienated outsider who finally, fatally makes a real connection with a fellow creature stars Steven J. Anderson as the increasingly agitated stranger and Larry Dahlke as the smug, comfortable New Yorker he comes upon in the park.

Anderson, who unfolds his life history in a suitably wide-eyed, creepy manner, unfortunately starts at a high-pitched level that immediately stamps him as a crazy person to be avoided at all costs; and Dahlke, his initially bemused and then raging victim, is dressed too casually, not nearly tweedy enough for the contrast Albee wants to establish between the two men.

Guare's short, perky bit of zaniness, dating from 1966, features Julie Ganey and Dan Kuhlman, neatly paired as the oddball lovers in director Jay Paul Skelton's staging; and in Horovitz's 1970 urban horror story, directed by Lila M. Stromer, Roxanne Fay is the battered wife of Michael McKay, a brutish fanatic obsessed with plugging a mechanical bear (Joseph Bowen) at a shooting gallery in the park.