Chump Fiction | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Chump Fiction 

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CHUMP FICTION, at National Pastime Theater. In his second solo theater piece, Joel Calderon has accomplished something extraordinary: he's recast an ancient myth in a hip-hop landscape without draining the story of resonance or reducing its spiritual aspect to irony or kitsch. What's more, Calderon has rethought the tale of the Prodigal Son through autobiography. Restless Chicago teenager Brooklyn flees his ultraconservative Catholic family hoping to find adventure and romance as a deejay in New York. Reassuring God one night that "we still there, okay?" he quickly achieves everything a starry-eyed 19-year-old hipster could want: a corner in a four-room apartment housing 11 people, a job spinning records, and true love. He then tells God he doesn't need Him anymore, that others need Him more. With those words the die is cast, and Brooklyn's dark night of the soul looms.

Chump Fiction is still a long way from a finished piece of theater. Its 20 scenes, some of which fizzle and many of which could be consolidated, are separated by long blackouts (the first lasts about two minutes--the theatrical equivalent of starting a road trip with a flat tire). Calderon could use a crash course in theatrical economy. But he creates such a candid, endearing parody of himself, cartoonishly hip and heartbreakingly naive, that the piece never veers into confessional self-pity. His remarkable, and remarkably raw, talent carries the evening. --Justin Hayford

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