Monday, May 2, 2011

The Conquest To The South Pole (Strawdog Theater)

It’s never been a better time to be alive. Change is sweeping the world, the sun is waking up from its long slumber, and the fast food chicken nugget wars have finally brought us the reasonably priced 20-piece McNugget meal from McDonalds. I can’t get enough of them, and now that they can be purchased for $4.99 (or the Meal Deal for $9.99, which also comes with two medium fries and two medium drinks), this treasure trove of delight is now within reach of the unemployed, who have long dreamed of something to distract them from the defeat of standing in line at the unemployment office.

Manfred Karge’s The Conquest of the South Pole, translated by Calvin McLean, Caron Cadle, & Ralf Remshardt, directed by Kimberly Senior, and produced by Strawdog Theatre Company, seeks to explain what every unemployed person did before Chicken McNuggets were invented – apparently engaging in reenactments in their attics. It makes sense to me, as this is what all Chicago theatre artists do while not getting paid – play make-em-ups in the attics, basements, lofts, and garages of more important buildings filled with employed people.

Senior commands an impressive design team to turn the Strawdog space - the attic above Tutto Fresco – into the attic of an unemployed dude and his lady. As I opened up my McNugget Meal Deal, I began to appreciate that I had two cup holders at my disposal – one for my medium Diet Coke, and one for my medium sweet tea. I get 2 different drinks to make it seem like I’m sharing the Meal Deal with someone else, so that the McDonalds employees don’t think that I’m a fatty. Sometimes I even pretend to be on the phone with the person I’m going to share it with, asking them their beverage preference. I get Sweet and Sour sauce with my nuggets as a precautionary measure, in case the nuggets are dry. Otherwise I prefer them au naturel.

The play starts strangely, the first few exploratory bites always being cautious – no one wants to bite into a dry McNugget. Thankfully, no Sweet and Sour was needed. The cast is pretty juicy and fresh – Jennifer Avery is a real stand-out here, though her character’s connection to fast food might have tipped the scales for me. But she’s also pretty and she acts good, which might be more important. The use of the space is great – functional and elegant – using two 10-piece McNugget boxes both provides an easily measurable benchmark in one’s race for the South Pole of satiety, as well as helping to maintain the illusion that someone is going to share their 20-piece McNugget Meal Deal with someone who is just about to show up.

Karge and his translators throw in a couple of dry nuggets towards the end, but Senior’s choice of sauces, the Sweet and Sour Justine Turner and the Hot Mustard Anderson Lawfer, help to finish off the box. I was glad that my grade-school cafeteria training of eating my French fries first saved me from having to share with the red-tinged gentleman to my right, who thoroughly enjoyed the play and none of my fries. My unwillingness to share my meal is fully validated by the message of the play – that while someone will eat McNuggets that are given to them, they will never be happy unless they can get their own, and will be forced to play make-em-ups in which they dream of reaching the Golden Arches of the South Pole, probably in your attic.

I’d like to thank the Saints for handing me my program in a pleasant manner, and for turning a blind eye to my enormous McDonalds bag.


-Mike Ooi


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