Dear Holmey | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dear Holmey 

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Yakity Yak Productions

at the Theatre Building

The Theatre Building has three performing spaces available to anyone who can afford the rent. This has been a great blessing to the Chicago theater community, providing a home for many fine shows that might never have opened otherwise. Unfortunately, its existence also enables vanity productions such as Dear Holmey to get in front of an audience.

Dear Holmey was written by two of the actors in the show--Clark Weber, who plays Dean Holmes, an advice columnist for a Chicago newspaper, and Karen Cole, who portrays a character with no apparent relevance to the plot. The show was directed by another cast member, Todd L. Yearton. Dear Holmey is the first show staged by Yakity Yak Productions, a group formed for the purpose. Creating his own production company was clearly the only way Weber could get his script staged, for the plot of Dear Holmey is so incoherent and arbitrary, and the dialogue so inane, that the play verges on surrealism.

Early in the play, when Dean is working feverishly at the typewriter in his apartment, trying to get his column finished, he tells his girlfriend to "make like a hockey player and get the puck out of here." Later he is visited by Aunt Pearl, who is obsessed with cooking salmon for her nephew. "If I eat any more salmon I'll have to fight the urge to swim upstream and spawn," he complains. From this comment, Aunt Pearl concludes that Holmey is not homosexual or heterosexual but "salmon-sexual." When Holmey corrects this misconception, she apologizes profusely. "I accused you of wanting to have sex with a fish," she says.

Soon Holmey's Lincoln Park apartment is filled with his girlfriend Beth (Bernadine Holland) and her best friend Jeanne (Angela Beutel), who is dating Holmey's best friend Joe (Stephen Schiller). Suddenly Beth turns to the audience and tries to explain what she sees in Holmey--besides an obvious resemblance to Jerry Lewis and Bart Simpson. But Beth's explanation is flip and unconvincing: "I'm a perfectionist, and Dean requires a lot of perfecting."

Then, in a painfully silly scene, Holmey and Joe burst into the room wearing funny hats and glasses and propose marriage to the two women by singing a rap song that concludes, "This is it, this is a fact, will you marry us 'cause we think you're stacked."

Here the plot flies into total chaos. Beth has a nervous breakdown at the thought of marrying Holmey, so he ties her to a chair. Jeanne also ties herself to a chair to show that she can remain tied up as long as her friend. Holmey's editor and his wife show up for a party, and the wife starts insisting that her husband tell her in front of everyone that he loves her. Then they tie themselves up too. At one point eight people onstage are tied up, trying to sleep--an apt reflection, I thought, of the audience members confined to their seats by the rules of etiquette but longing to doze.

What is the point of this absurdity? After he gets good and drunk, Holmey steps forward and delivers the answer: "There's only one way to success, and that's through sweat," he tells the audience. "If more people realized this, I wouldn't have to sit at my typewriter and piece together people's lives."

But the real answer lies buried in the press release and in a throwaway line near the end of the play. Though this fact has been dropped from the script, the press release states that "Dean also contends with a birth condition known as Hydrocephalus, which causes an abnormal increase of the amount of fluid in the cranial cavity." Weber himself has coped with the condition all his life, and writing a play with a main character based on himself undoubtedly provided a way for him to deal with the problems the condition has caused. And as Holmey says, "Some people can't get on with the present until they take care of the past."

Writing certainly has the power to "take care of the past." And theater as therapy can be illuminating for the audience as well as the playwright. That is not the case here. Writing Dear Holmey might have been an enlightening experience for Weber, but watching it is nothing but an ordeal.

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