This past Sunday, in the middle of the worst blizzard in the history of time, I went to Wicker Park to see a play at a new theater called the “Den Theater”.
The Den is a new 4600 square foot theater owned and operated by an old friend of mine named Ryan Martin. Ryan is one of the nicest guys around, so I was happy to oblige him and go out in this jerky weather to see his jerky new theater and jerky new play.
This place is sweet. It’s very big, and if I know anything about theaters in Wicker Park, he won’t have trouble renting this place out for Ecstasy parties and improv groups who bring their own booze and probably use strobe lights and wear ironic glasses.
Maybe one member of this improv group will play guitar and another will do crazy voices. They will certainly all have something to contribute to the hilarity! There will be a girl in the cast that will thrust her pelvis a lot and think it’s funny and maybe…just maybe…there will be a gay member that will do his part setting his kind back 40 years by acting super homo and doing lots of jokes about butts.
But enough about my improv group, this review is about the Den Theater. When you first walk up the most dangerous staircase on Earth, you enter a room that is well lit and very clean. There are cookies and sodas for you to have and maybe if Ryan knows you, he will give you a beer!
After my lovely experience in the lobby, waving to people I’ve met, and making new friends, it was time to see the play!
Bus Stop by William Inge is a play written for college kids to do because it has very broad characters and accents that are sort of easy to do and sort of impossible, it seems.
The play is about a restaurant called ‘Grace’s’ that is right next to a bus stop. Not a bus stop like the stupid CTA, but like, a Greyhound bus stop in the middle of nowhere.
There are 3 people in the town. The owner Grace (Liz Zweifler), a waitress named Elma (Elise Walter), and a sheriff of this town named Will (Ed Smaron). I think this town only exists because of the bus stop that is right outside.
Anyway, one day the bus comes in but the roads ahead are closed because it is winter and the roads are broken. The driver and passengers are gonna be here for a loooooong time, y’all!
The first guy in the door is this dude named Dr. Lyman (played with actual creepiness by Ron Wells). This dude is basically a hobo but says he is a professor of something, and just wants to stick it in Elma. Elma is too young to know what is happening because this is before the Internet so she has never been to the website “Big Sausage Pizza”. On that website, even the pizza guys wanna make out with young girls. If they had “Big Sausage Pizza” back then, she’d know.
Anyway, this bum is always drinking whiskey and talking about some bullshit. He has a weird mustache and very lanky arms and legs. In fact, Ron Wells is a well known actor that might be doing his best and weirdest ever with this performance.
The next guys who come in are Carl the bus driver (Karl Pothoff, who actually looks like a bus driver), and 2 cowboy guys named Bo and Virgil (the handsome Brian Kavanaugh and the guitar-y Will Kinnear).
I have such an infatuation with Will Kinnear because it seems like he wasn't acting at all. There was nothing thrown on his performance. He just kinda said his lines and lived in the world and then took off. I like that in a guy.
Carl the bus driver is just interested in banging Grace because she is his age and lives alone, so she sort of likes to slut it up when the bus drivers come a calling. Bo is in love with this actual whore named Cherie (the not-a-whore-in-real-life Arianne Ellison). Bo’s friend Virgil is there to go with him to Montana to a ranch.
I think this play is about people being lonely and not having anywhere to go in life. The reason that it’s interesting is because they are all on a bus, going somewhere.
I know what you are thinking. “All these guys on a bus! That sounds like ‘Speed’!”
It is sort of like Speed, except nobody really cares what’s going on and is willing to move into the diner and there is no bombs or people of color. It's just hillbillies. Well, they all talk and do stuff and run around and bang Grace until the roads are clear and then they all leave Grace to reenact the ending of “Cheers” where Sam Malone closes up the bar by himself.
Now, the production values are far above anyone else’s first production which gives me lots of hope for this company.
The problem with this play is, it tricks you into thinking that it can be an immersive piece that is perfect for the Chicago style when it really…isn’t. It's a play that was exploring the new form of realism for the stage that is now sort of like using a wool jacket when you can be using Gortex jackets.
Ryan Martin and Lia Mortensen do a great job of creating the time and place. It’s always interesting to me to watch shows about people who lived before Facebook because saying goodbye meant something different then. It meant, “Maybe this is the last time I will ever see you”, instead of now when goodbye means “I will see you online in 40 seconds”.
This is a great chance to see a play by a new company and visit a new space that you will no doubt be using sometime in the future. In fact, you should take the bus there!!
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach