Geography of a Horse Dreamer/Fear Itself | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Geography of a Horse Dreamer/Fear Itself 

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GEOGRAPHY OF A HORSE DREAMER

Carpe Noctem Productions
at Shattered Globe Theatre

On their surface, Sam Shepard's plays have nothing to do with the daily lives of people like you and me. Take Geography of a Horse Dreamer, which he wrote in 1974. You've got a guy who dreams up the winners in horse races, a hotel room (you don't know where), and two other guys who handcuff the dreamer to the bed, give him pills, and place bets according to the names of horses he calls out in his sleep. It's a weird situation. And it grows weirder as the play progresses. But Shepard doesn't comment on this; he just lays it on the table like a piece of raw steak. And he does so in such a way that the audience devours it completely.

If Shepard's plays have nothing to do with our daily lives they have everything to do with our deepest, most violent emotions. Shepard knows where our desires and fears lie and he creates situations to get at that place. His plays have a raw energy--they're almost like a primal scream--and they resonate long after the lights go up. Carpe Noctem director Lindsay Jones comes very close to capturing this energy in Geography of a Horse Dreamer. This fast-paced production crackles and bites. It moves along with the excitement that comes to a new theater group when they know they're doing something right. And it makes for some very satisfying late-night theater.

What's missing from this production is a sense of eeriness. Like Shepard, Jones wisely doesn't comment on the situation. But he lets his eight-member ensemble drive the action a little too fast. They don't take time to let quiet, unusual, or macabre moments settle. So while this production dazzles the brain, it doesn't sink as deeply into the stomach as it could.

This is the kind of play that gives male actors a chance to flex their technique, and Jones has assembled a highly skilled cast that does just that. Ramon Lyons and Jason Singer give seamless performances as the gangsters Beaujo and Santee. Jeff Parker is a delightful weirdo as Fingers, the ominous gangster boss. Tim McGeever as the horse dreamer Cody and Scott Caple as "Doctor" come off as unnervingly real. Even the thankless bit parts are well performed. All these actors need is to open up and breathe a bit and this production will soar.

FEAR ITSELF

Corn Productions
at the Factory Theater

It's a good idea. Actually, it's a great idea to create a variety show based on fear. Fear goes straight to the gut. Sometimes it won't leave us, lurking over our shoulder. Sometimes it's worth looking into. Other times it's laughable. As the people at Corn Productions know, it certainly can be explored in a number of fascinating and chilling ways. But unfortunately this fun-loving group (creators of the semifamous drag duo Tiff and Mom) don't have the skills to pull it off. A show with the potential to make us leery of walking alone out of the theater ended up being only slightly interesting.

Fear Itself consists of skits and songs, each of them with a different perspective on fear. Some are written by the seven-member ensemble, others by such notables as Eugene Ionesco and Stephen King. The problem is that no perspective is explored deeply enough to bring it to life. While the well-meaning ensemble bring a lot of enthusiasm to the job, they're not the best actors. They revel in their trademark cornball antics and don't do much beyond that. If director Robert Bouwman could provide some depth and theatrical finesse, he might have a really good thing going. But as it stands, Fear Itself lacks the production values and depth of vision to make it any more than a good idea.

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