Howlers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Howlers 

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HOWLERS, Great Beast Theater, at the Sweet Corn Playhouse. Both one-acts in the Great Beast's "Howlers" premiered in the early 1980s. But Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise, Harry Kondoleon's absurdist study of four selfish spouses, has some original things to say about marital tensions, while Grace McKeaney's Fits and Starts is nearly indistinguishable from the juvenile diatribes that proliferated on the coffeehouse-theater circuit circa 1959. Even her characters--bored stay-at-home wives, infantile ad-exec husbands, manipulative power-hungry mothers--come from an earlier era, as does the annoying conceit of the protagonist who addresses the audience, telling us what to think of it all.

Joining these two one-acts under a single title emphasizes their common themes, but ultimately that choice drags the better of the two down to the level of its partner. The actors in Self Torture struggle mightily to give their roles some coherence and intelligence, and Ariel Brenner and Louie Hondros almost pull it off; but Sheri Reda's thin voice is frequently inaudible--especially since director Michael Martin (who also plays one of Kondoleon's denial-steeped hubbies) has her speaking to the upstage wall much of the time. The cast of Fits and Starts, on the other hand, offers a uniform quick 'n' slick shrillness perfectly suited to McKeaney's shallow, derivative script.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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