All the Blood | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

All the Blood 

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Cosmic Travel Agency Theatre Company, at Le Cafe.

It would be easy to dismiss this new work by an ensemble recently arrived from Chico, California. Gabrielle Suzanne Kaplan's earnest, awkward play chronicles the halfhearted efforts of a closeted gay brother and his sister, an abused wife, to break free from Altoona, Pennsylvania. Its scene fragments are cluttered with crises and cut-and-dried characters: the passive-aggressive harridan of a mother, the spouse-beating husband, and the treacherous best friend. All too generously, Kaplan gives even the minor characters auditionlike speeches, and she concocts a messy second act that doesn't know when or how to end; and director Tom LaMere tends to loot the script for melodrama.

Nonetheless, Kaplan knows small-town small-mindedness and clearly feels for a brother and sister who seem paralyzed by their own decency. Her family snapshots are readily recognizable and warmly framed. Equally impressive is the sheer generosity with which she distributes predicaments, even giving a philosophical barfly mental problems that would keep a shrinks' powwow busy for days.

At it's best, when All the Blood gets away from its soap-operatic calamaties, we grasp how hard it is to do the right thing in a wrong world. The brother's coming out and the sister's flight from a lifetime of mean luck are not easy escapes to make, and Kaplan conveys these full truths--and many half-truths--with solid compassion. The smoothest performances in this still stiff staging come from Deborah Puette, who plays the sister with disarming intensity, and John Fenner Mays, who gives the brother great dignity.

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