Fulfilling Koch's Postulate | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Fulfilling Koch's Postulate 

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FULFILLING KOCH'S POSTULATE, Treehouse, at Angel Island. It's tough to trigger laughs with typhoid fever. Undeterred, Joan Schenkar has penned a perversely playful hour-long one-act postulating a weird codependency between science and sickness. Never has the stupidity of infection been so--well, contagious.

Schenkar imagines that Typhoid Mary, infamous for transporting the typhus germ to 20 unfortunate households, works as a cook for the famous bacteriologist Robert Koch. Blithely preaching that "cooking is its own reward," Mary refuses to give up her career or allow anyone to dictate hygiene in her kitchen. "I am the cook," she howls hysterically. As Koch's assistant and maidservant indulge in random couplings, the doctor dithers in his laboratory; ironically, Mary's meals supply the very material to test his famous postulate.

Schenkar's gallows humor may put you off your feed, but her sardonic depiction of obsession, whether culinary or scientific, yields a delightfully stylized comedy. Director Sara Laudonia cleverly sets the action inside a giant mouth, giving the play a cartoony verve that makes up for too many blackouts. Matt Herman plays Koch with a dotty Teutonic abstraction, arguing that "there's nothing as funny as death." He's archly contrasted with Thomas Colby's manic assistant and Rachel Chaves's dim maid. The most reliable laughs, however, come from Carmel Avegnon's demonic Mary, whose chirpy intensity suggests Julia Child on helium. Don't see this on an empty stomach--or a full one, for that matter.

--Lawrence Bommer

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