It's A Mediocre Life | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

It's A Mediocre Life 

Strawdog Theatre Company

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IT'S A MEDIOCRE LIFE, Strawdog Theatre Company. Well, it's a wonderful idea. In Paul Englehardt's sequel to Frank Capra's 1946 feel-good film classic, we find that second-class angel Clarence lost his wings when George Bailey spent his friends' savings to upgrade his house, drowning himself after all. So Clarence gets sent back to earth to reclaim another potential suicide. But this time his client, Richard Teemy, is a drug-dealing, blackmailing, Unabomber-loving, heart attack-inducing, hard-drinking arsonist responsible for his brother's paralysis and girlfriend's heartbreak, the town's pollution, and assorted avoidable deaths. As Clarence ruefully learns, the world would have been better off if Richard, the "Pottersville Flameboy," were never born.

Richard Teemy recalls Ring Lardner's and James Thurber's vicious-jerk heroes, who become such terrible role models they must be eliminated. Unfortunately, Strawdog's 55-minute parody wastes countless opportunities for comedy, from the hackneyed start--in which God and the Devil wager over Clarence's success--to the easy ending, whose twist changes nothing at all.

Never dropping energy but never catching fire, Chrisanne Blankenship-Billings's Strawdog staging plays this one-joke sketch for all it's worth. Jo Ann Oliver has fun as the perpetually delighted Devil, and Brian Posen as Clarence is glumly opportunistic while Sal Foto as Richard teems with slacker self-hatred. The plucky cast hurl themselves into their before-and-after caricatures, but Engelhardt hasn't given them the funny stuff to tap their talents. Sadly, it's a mediocre comedy.

--Lawrence Bommer

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