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Guys, Grounded Theatre, at Chicago Actors Studio. Gar! Batten the hatches; here be the worst show I've seen in a year. The blame falls first on David Lightner, who's served up the lifeless lines and tired scenario: Eddie (John Anthony Schultz), whose only fault is being a loser jerk, grapples with a troubled marriage--until Big Trouble arrives in the form of young, sexy new neighbor Ellen (Marie Louise Hamel). Lightner fails to elicit any special sympathy for his characters, the principal flaw among many: it's immediately clear Eddie should leave his wife, regardless of who we're told to side with. But things get worse.

The mechanics of the script are abominable: friends reveal deep secrets casually, as though they were talking about the weather. Plot developments are thunderously telegraphed well before they're "revealed." And Eddie turns out to be a much bigger jerk than anyone could have guessed, thanks mostly to a meticulously contrived (and concealed) back story. But things get worse.

Ham-handed director Frank Merle (author of the ludicrous Criminality) seems to have found his soul mate in Lightner, accenting every cliche while ignoring the meager meat. The cast, a combination of lifers and fresh faces, are no better: even on a line-reading level, obvious emphases and emotional turns get botched. And some brief seminudity, however considered, just seems creepy. Eventually this production's thoroughgoing awkwardness approximates the marital unease never evoked within the play--the only intriguing moment all night.

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