Defending Your Life | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Defending Your Life 

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DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, WNEP Theater, at the Lakeshore Theater. Writer-director Albert Brooks's warm 1991 meditation on paying one's debts in the afterlife surpassed the slight observational humor of his previous films as he attempted to answer some of life's big questions. WNEP director Don Hall picks up where Brooks left off in this series of improvised hour-long mock trials, stripped to the film's Judgment City setting and featuring a character awaiting a stringent cradle-to-grave analysis of his or her life.

A deliberately paced affair without romance or sappy sentiment, the show derives much of its humor from the lightning-quick interplay between the two performers playing the defense and prosecutor roles, originated by Rip Torn and Lee Grant in the movie. On the night I attended, Brad Norman and Jen Ellison stole the show with their acid exchanges as the other six members of the ensemble conjured up the gory details of the protagonist's life in interconnected flashbacks.

Overall, however, there's room for improvement in the show's pacing: too much time was spent unpacking the heroine's free-spirited college years at the expense of the last two decades of her life. And Hall's cast fails to establish the serious side of the proceedings, never convincing the audience to invest in the show's herky-jerky fragments--we never learn the verdict on the protagonist's life, for example. Disappointingly indeterminate, the show itself seems to exist in limbo.

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