Lloyd's Prayer and Commedia Dell' High School | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Lloyd's Prayer and Commedia Dell' High School 

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Lloyd's Prayer and Commedia Dell' High School, Step Right Up Productions, at Victory Gardens Theater. What a piece of work is a man! But where is the "noble reason" in Bob, who was nurtured first by animals, then by men little better than beasts? Though Kevin Kling's Lloyd's Prayer explores such questions, this is no theological polemic. With the same surreal giddiness of his Ice-Fishing Play, Kling mocks false piety as humorously as he celebrates the true love of God--but first, not surprisingly, imperfect human beings must love one another. And you can't get much more imperfect than Lloyd, the greedy flimflam man, and his meal ticket, Bobby the Beast Boy. With the help of a hard-bargaining angel, however, both come to see the light.

Step Right Up's young actors play their allegorical characters somewhat closer to the surface than is desirable, but they admirably resist the lure of self-indulgent silliness inherent in Kling's script (and the premise of a boy bred by raccoons is mighty tempting). Instead they deliver intelligent, focused performances, led by Mark St. Amant as the huckster Lloyd and Kevin Stark as Bobby. And Jeris Donovan, who here plays angels both earthly and celestial, continues to work commendably hard--harder than her roles demand.

You'll find no scattershot sketch-and-blackout formula in Commedia Dell' High School, no Harolds merely stringing together the same old shticks. What distinguishes Step Right Up's improv show from others (with the possible exception of the Free Associates) is the existence of a plot. Starting with a high school setting, two stock characters, and a few details from the audience, the seven ensemble members forge a narrative complete with foreshadowing and reversals--all the accoutrements of the classic 19th-century novel (or at least a John Hughes movie). Hyperbolic slapstick is refreshingly absent. On the night I attended, Bumper Carroll and Mary-Terese Cozzola took the lead roles in a fable of adolescent angst centered around a nerd's learning, then unlearning how to be cool 'n' cruel. Even the supporting characters had enough depth and complexity to make one want to return and see what their stories were. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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