A Jenkins Home Companion | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Jenkins Home Companion 

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A JENKINS HOME COMPANION, Close Call Theatre, at Stage Left Theatre. Ken Jenkins's monologues Rupert's Birthday and Chug are minimalist tales of American eccentricity notable primarily as easily staged character studies providing a heart tug and a chuckle.

Rupert's Birthday is the better of the two, offering the dramatic story behind a farm woman's refusal to celebrate any public holidays. Although Du Shon Monique Brown is very young for the part, she has a good sense of comic timing that adds charm to the descriptions of her character's coming-of-age in 1957: she helped to birth and ultimately kill her bull Rupert and continues to commemorate his life each year. Anthony Pinizzotto directs a wildly active staging, but Brown manages to act out the bull's birth in vehement, realistic pantomime, turning a potentially awkward moment into an uncomfortable-looking but memorable one. As visitors to her sparsely suggested front porch, the audience are welcomed into a story worth hearing despite its lack of subtlety.

Chug is less successful partly because it's cliched and repetitive and partly because Michael Kingston's hackneyed, slow-paced characterization of Chug magnifies the script's flaws: he mugs and meanders through Jenkins's tale of a redneck turned hippie turned frustrated frog breeder. The result is not unlike entrapment on a cross-country train trip with a slow-witted and relentlessly talkative seatmate. When Chug demonstrates the mating habits of bullfrogs in one overexcited scene, the audience's forced role as visitor-witnesses is strained beyond any suspension of disbelief. Chug is a disappointing end to an evening that begins well.

--Carol Burbank

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