Known Unknowns: New Short Works | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Known Unknowns: New Short Works 

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Known Unknowns: New Short Works, Theater Oobleck at Candlestick Maker. Visiting Oobleck's cramped, amenity-free rented quarters is a bit like hanging out in your smart friends' basement. That homeyness reaches its peak in the hour-long evening's final piece, Scythian Sky Poetry: Oral Epics of Nephology. After inviting the audience to lie on the carpet, the Oobleckians project moving finger-painted smudges across a sheet suspended from the ceiling while an actress describes an ancient tribe in central Asia whose poets interpreted clouds. The experience is as comforting and magical as kindergarten story hour, although it has a poignant twist: at the end we learn that one of the only surviving collections of Scythian writings is housed in Baghdad's national archive.

All six pieces in "Known Unknowns" respond in some manner to the recent Iraq war. Not all of them work; Friese Undine's plodding puppet pieces lack dramatic flair. But David Isaacson's giddy, cynical satire Rumsfeld's Attic takes the Bush administration's stated rationale for invading Iraq to a sobering Orwellian extreme. In Have You Got Yourself an Occupation? David Bicharraco's photojournalistic sketches slide by on overlapping brown-paper scrolls while an actor reads a horrifying description of an American bombing raid. And in A Carcass, Bicharraco turns Baudelaire's description of a prostitute's rotting corpse into a ballad of wartime carnage. It's rare for theater companies to respond so quickly to world events, and in this case the responses provide much food for thought.

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