Crossing Boundaries III: The Life of the Mind | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Crossing Boundaries III: The Life of the Mind 

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CROSSING BOUNDARIES III: THE LIFE OF THE MIND, Strawdog Theatre Company. Calling your annual showcase of short plays "Crossing Boundaries" lets you put just about anything you want onstage--and subtitling the project "The Life of the Mind" hardly narrows the field. Producers might imagine that such freedom works to their advantage; as Strawdog artistic director Richard Shavzin explains in a program note, "We quickly realized that by not defining it, we would greatly widen the range of submissions." Good if you're hurting for material. Bad if you want to put together a coherent evening.

Incoherence wins the day at this year's "Crossing Boundaries." The quality ranges from intriguing (Stephen Serpas's The Pictures, about an amnesiac trying to reassemble his life) to puzzling (Jim McDermott's Pascal's Pensive Cafe, a "vaudeville quintet" of gumshoes dabbling in rotating corpses and sound-bitten existentialism) to sophomoric (Stephanie G. Heller's A Pound of Flesh, a cliche-ridden poetic monologue about rape rendered soap-operatic by Jo Ann Oliver's misguided attempt to relive the trauma before our eyes). After five plays and 90 minutes, the show finds its feet in Malcolm Rothman's adaptation of the trial scene from Catch-22: Clevinger's Trial hilariously proves that military intelligence is an oxymoron. The cast's enthusiasm, not to mention the intelligence of Joseph Heller's writing, points up the relentless mediocrity of the other pieces. But Rothman's work arrives too late to bring the mind back to life.

--Justin Hayford

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