Locked Up Down Shorty's | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Locked Up Down Shorty's 

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LOCKED UP DOWN SHORTY'S, Steeltown Productions, at American Blues Theatre. Cunningly designed and performed, bristling with atmosphere, and crackling with smartly written dialogue, Mike Petty's drama of scuttled working-class dreams in a dying Pennsylvania mill town has the look and feel of classic American drama. Petty has skillfully and wittily rendered an idiosyncratic crew of disaffected regulars at Shorty's Bar and Grill; their discussions of blue-collar frustration and white-collar corruption promise a gritty and authentic drama. A great deal of time and care has gone into this premiere under the solid direction of Jay Paul Skelton; his top-notch cast includes Michael McNeal as an earnest mill worker and the always excellent Brad Armacost as a sly retired operative for the Irish Republican Army.

Their performances almost make you forget about the play as it begins to crumble around them. Just when you think you could be watching the first work of a new August Wilson or Arthur Miller, Petty uncorks a stunningly harebrained plot, effectively destroying every shred of credibility he's achieved. The idea that these salt-of-the-earth characters would kidnap a crooked S and L president and force him to earn an honest day's wages as a bartender is, to say the least, ridiculous. Petty's unfortunate plot twist essentially converts his naturalistic drama into a foolish sitcom reminiscent of the Dolly Parton vehicle Nine to Five. Eliminating this plot and focusing on the quotidian struggles of Petty's intriguing characters would've been a better idea. --Adam Langer


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