In Life on Paper, Jackalope once again turns straw into gold. | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

In Life on Paper, Jackalope once again turns straw into gold. 

Gus Menary's ensemble transforms Kenneth Lin's mechanical script into a warm, nuanced production.

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Joel Maisonet

Playwright Kenneth Lin's got nothing on Frank Capra. In this gauzy, diagrammatic new play, given its world premiere by Jackalope Theatre, two forensic economists descend upon the aftermath of a plane crash that took the life of Hank Baylor, 63rd richest man in the world. Cynical Mitch (Joel Ewing), hired by the airline, is a once-heralded math genius who's now designing algorithms to calculate the value of lives snuffed out in accidents. Unjaded Ida (Mary Williamson), slogging through a marital breakup, works for the small-town savings and loan that Baylor promised $50 million before his death. Thus Mitch must push Baylor's life value down, and Ida must push it up—a tidy setup they each explain to the audience more than once. When they meet, sparks, romance, and complications fly, often so speedily the plot runs well ahead of its own logic.

Remarkably, director Gus Menary transforms the mechanical script into a warm, nuanced, deeply felt production. He's assembled a cast who sublimate their every emotion and intention, creating intrigue where Lin offers illustration. They even manage to make expository dialogue sound natural. The approach is particularly helpful in act two, when Lin largely abandons the dueling economist story in favor of exploring the inner lives of ancillary characters. They're the best scenes in the play, even if they feel like they're leftovers from previous drafts, and the actors plumb them exquisitely. This show is another reminder that you don't see better acting on any Chicago stage than Jackalope's.   v

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