H Chord at Midnight | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

H Chord at Midnight 

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H Chord at Midnight, Telemachus Productions, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, South Hall. It's been a long time since I've left a theater grumbling, "What the hell was that?" If only this late-night offering of music and theatrical improvisation, a real head scratcher, had offered more to its audience than befuddlement and irritation.

More rock concert than dramatic performance, director Keith Privett's hour-long H Chord at Midnight allows the five actors in his improv troupe to do pretty much whatever strikes their fancy during and between songs by Unky-J, a passably groovy art-rock quintet with a knack for weaving together trippy, psychedelic interludes, catchy riffs, and pompous apocalyptic lyrics, suggesting a retro-flavored hybrid of the Cranberries and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Sometimes the actors do basic two-person improvisations on trite topics like male-female relations, current events, and fucked-up families; sometimes they chant along with the band; sometimes they utter non sequiturs with pseudo profundity ("I have so much freedom, I feel so trapped!"); sometimes they writhe on the floor or flail their arms, vaguely approximating a jerky modern dance or slow-motion frug. When the songs create just the right mood, one of the actors removes the shoes of some poor soul seated in the first row.

If Privett's improvisers were more skilled, or at least more confident, perhaps H Chord could be more than just pretentious and discomforting. But the characterizations are often weak, the scenes rarely have any rhythm or direction, and the choreography can get awfully silly. Ultimately the actors' bodies and voices just get in the way of the band.

--Adam Langer

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