Dark Ride | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dark Ride 

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Thunder Road Ensemble, at Strawdog Theatre Company.

As a teenager I spent a summer working at a seedy amusement park near my home driving the kiddie train, a particle-board-and-outboard-engine monstrosity that slugged to such scenic locales as a highway off-ramp, a corrugated-steel tool shed, and an empty lot. Approaching the slightest curve, I had to slow the train to a barely detectable crawl lest the old girl spill over onto her side.

I found myself right back on that luckless train watching Thunder Road Ensemble's Dark Ride, a production entirely without drive or imagination. Len Jenkin's dazzling 1981 script, about ten hapless dreamers caught in a beguilingly coincidental world of dreams and despair, should run like an out-of-control carnival ride. From Jenkin's intoxicating prose, characters and images and ideas appear and disappear in whirling flashes like figures in a spook house.

Instead of jumping in and hanging on for dear life, Thunder Road's bewildered cast, under Amy Eaton's direction, proceed at an excruciatingly slow pace, generally unconcerned with trivialities like making sense of their complicated text or creating characters with any semblance of an inner life. They must have worked hard to turn this roller coaster into a broken-down family station wagon. But I guess that's what rehearsals are for.

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