November 22, 2007
Asking fringe maestro Sean Graney to direct at a gentleman’s theater like the Court is like walking into the first act of a Chekhov play and handing somebody—even a stagehand—a loaded pistol. You know that by the final curtain, things will be hitting the fan. And, true to Anton’s maxim, it’s the final third of this artistic blind date that slides headlong into total nonsense. In particular, the last 20 minutes or so might be the most dangerous and inventive on an Equity Chicago stage this year. If the preceding two hours sacrifice a minimal degree of requisite coherence, it’s in service of an experiment that pays off enough to warrant our attention and admiration.
Graney’s a lot like the late Brit trickster Joe Orton. Both allowed themselves to be embraced by theater scenes that believed themselves to be bawdy and broad-minded; all the while, the artists extend middle fingers behind the bourgeois backs they’re hugging. Orton’s sex farce about a shrink who tries to take advantage of a naïve secretarial applicant preyed on the sex mores of the British middle-class; Graney’s production takes on the stodginess of the American theatrical middle-class. A gorgeous set and professional resources are utterly desecrated by his rutting direction. (A medal, by the way, goes to distinguished actor Mary Beth Fisher. Her smashingly game participation gives the affair a dignity for Graney to piss on.)
And plenty of his newball comedy approach fails. Butler gallops blindly through what should be savored comic bits and hangs languidly on mournful moments that should be brisk. But the sly, Austin Powers–level execution of genitalia concealment is there to tickle your fancy and whet your palate. The final pigsty orgy is there to kill your appetite and dare you to walk out. In this delightfully disobedient world, one means nothing without the other. We think Orton would’ve dug it.