Off Off Loop Theater Festival: Wild Dogs/Dates Without Chicks/The Shirt | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Off Off Loop Theater Festival: Wild Dogs/Dates Without Chicks/The Shirt 

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OFF OFF LOOP THEATER FESTIVAL

WILD DOGS

Mary-Arrchie Theatre

DATES WITHOUT CHICKS

Theatre of the Reconstruction

THE SHIRT

Chicago Actors Project

These three plays, the Friday program of the Off Off Loop Theater Festival, could run under the heading "Misogynist's Delight," for all three involve male hostility toward women. And the third play takes misogyny to its logical extreme, ending with the ultimate act of aggression.

In Wild Dogs, a production by the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, two males turn their hostility toward women on each other. In this play by Matt Borczon, a drunken, hyperactive loner named Rex accuses Trevor King, an old high school buddy, of being "pussy whipped" because he let his wife throw him out of the house. Men are meant to be wild dogs, Rex argues--free and always ready to fight. But, he warns, wild dogs are likely to turn on each other unless they have a common enemy to combat. King submits to this scolding for a while, and then accuses Rex of being cowardly for walking out on his own wife years earlier. King may be angry with his wife, but he obviously doesn't see women as the enemy. And sure enough, without a common enemy to attack, these drunken "wild dogs" turn on each other.

This brief one-act gives Richard Cotovsky (Rex) a glorious opportunity to howl like a dog--that's how the play opens--and to chew up his timid, sensitive buddy. Cotovsky's manic energy drives the piece and keeps the scent of violence in the air. But Brian Sandstrom does a masterful job of gradually unveiling King's own quiet strength. He starts out portraying a withdrawn, self-pitying husband who's easily humbled by his aggressive friend. But when he starts to snarl and growl back, he transforms his character into a formidable opponent.

Scott Turner's Dates Without Chicks, staged by the Theatre of the Reconstruction, also focuses on two drunk buddies who are complaining bitterly about women. Guy (Jim Bernacki) describes how a woman smiled at him as he passed her on the street, but then rebuffed him when he said hello to her. "What did I do to deserve the total destruction of my ego," he grumps. His best friend Buddy (Paul Tamney) can't even get a woman to smile at him, largely because he sees them solely as sources of sexual gratification.

These barroom bull sessions bring to mind David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago--another play about two young men obsessed with getting laid. Turner even mimics some of Mamet's wildly raunchy dialogue. In one exchange, for example, Buddy and Guy wonder why some men "shake their dicks" before urinating, while some do so after. And Buddy pulls down his pants and sits on a toilet in plain view of the audience, as Guy argues that "Mexicans eat slow and shit fast, while Americans eat fast and are always full of shit."

Bernacki and Tamney work well together, drawing a full measure of humor from their dialogue. They also make Buddy and Guy seem to have a genuine change of heart toward women. But Mark Hanks and Gina Vera McLaughlin, the two actors who make occasional brief appearances to comment on the subtext of the play, deliver their lines in such a slipshod fashion that much of what they say is lost.

After two plays that make light of male hostility toward women, things turn deadly serious with Leonard Melfi's The Shirt. In this simple scene an interracial couple, Marcello and Twila, return to the seedy Times Square hotel room of a charming southern man they have befriended. Clarence wants to share a bottle of cognac with them, and they in turn promise to take him on his first visit to Greenwich Village.

At first the only hostility toward women seems to come from Marcello (Peter DeFaria), who seems impatient and annoyed with Twila (Tanya White). But Clarence (Paul Connell) changes almost imperceptibly from drunk and silly to drunk and weird. When he strips to the waist and dons a garish shirt with naked women all over it, the violence begins. The hatred Connell projects is so raw, unrestrained, and convincing that he turns this brief scene into a nightmare. His performance provides a sobering perspective on male animosity toward women.

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