Windy City Times review of "The Park Bench Plays"

"The Park Bench Plays"
Playwright: Edward Albee, John Guare, Israel Horovitz
At: Equity Library Theatre at Breadline Theatre, 1802 Berenice
Phone: (773) 743-0266
Tickets: $15

Runs through: Jan. 28

by Mary Shen Barnidge

The Zoo Story premiered in 1958, Shooting Gallery, in 1972, and The Loveliest Afternoon Of The Year, in 1966. All are reflective not only of their own times, but the ages of their authors - respectively, 30, 33, and 28. Despite the later acclaim earned by all three, our hindsight vision cannot ignore undertones of youthful prejudice - against the old, the unattractive, the comfortable, the responsibly mature, in the period plays being presented by Equity Library Theatre under the title of "The Park Bench Plays."

Leading the roster is Edward Albee's The Zoo Story, nowadays a much-interpreted classroom classic. But while Larry Dahlke succeeded in creating an integrated personality and palpable subtext for the passive Peter at the preview performance I attended, Stephen J. Anderson's externalized portrayal of the volatile Jerry was characterized by an adolescent irony that raised suspicions regarding the credibility of his complaints. (Even Jerry's desperate suicide registered as a possible charade, executed as it was with a knife far too small to administer the required mortal wound.)

There is little of the artist who would someday write Six Degrees Of Separation to be found in John Guare's The Loveliest Afternoon Of The Year, which unites a wholesome spinster from the midwest with a neurotic urban family man of gothic lineage for a liebestod in Central Park. The entertainment value of these two losers is largely due to the direction of Paul Jay Skelton, who keeps the action sufficiently light and giddy to allow Dan Kuhlman and Julie Ganey to engage us with their Feifferesque charm.

Shooting Gallery's fatal weapon is out in plain sight from the very start. Granted, its target is a mechanical bear in an arcade game, and Israel Horovitz' script specifies that the rifle be represented by a wooden cane while the actors voice the noise of gunfire. But one look at the obsessed shooter and his careworn consort tells us this is not going to be pretty. Michael McKay's fearless portrayal of a frustrated win-at-all-costs capitalist and Roxanne Fay's intense evocation of the victim who finally turns on her marital oppressor, her ursine protector, and anybody else who pisses her off, generate some chilling chemistry to offset the text's outdated gender dynamics. The finale to an evening's program running a bare two hours total, this selection is well worth the wait.