Cooking With Elvis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Cooking With Elvis 

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Lee Hall's black comedy features a paraplegic Elvis impersonator, his alcoholic wife, their food-obsessed teenage daughter, and the hapless baker who moves into their home in northern England. Dale Goulding's staging for Sang Froid Theatre Company last year in a studio at the Athenaeum captured beautifully the play's atmosphere of dank claustrophobia, some of which is sacrificed in the current restaging in the broad main-stage space. But once the four actors--all vets of the original production--pick up steam, this sad, nihilistic fable-cum-farce is often mesmerizing and hilarious. Thea Emily Nelson delivers a brave, heartbreaking performance as Jill, the grieving daughter locked in a desperate battle with her promiscuous, judgmental mother. Laura Millett's Mam is initially a bit off-putting, but her mannered reading eventually works as a sly inversion of the long-suffering, tough-as-nails Mildred Pierce type. And Sean O'Donnell as the boy toy baker and eventual scapegoat Stuart pulls off the difficult task of being both charmingly inept and creepy. What Hall explores (at times aiming for unnecessary shock value) is the desperate need of those cheated by fate to fill the void by any means. That's why the two women so often attack the pathologically agreeable Stuart, who seems to have no needs whatsoever. Ben Byer as Dad offers a welcome respite from this dark but affecting tale, giving his dreamlike Elvis monologues an unaffected simplicity. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 2936 N. Southport, 312-902-1500. Through February 7: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $20. The performance Friday, January 2, is preempted by a "70s Elvis tribute show" with Elvis impersonator Frank LaFon. $20. An added 4 PM performance Sunday, January 25, benefits the making of the documentary film about Lou Gehrig's disease ALS: The Quest for a Cure. The performance is preceded by "Lou and Elvis Happy Hour" at 3 PM and followed by a 6 PM jazz hour and a 7 PM screening of a portion of the movie. $65 (call 312-848-5919 for benefit information).

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