Oo-bla-Dee | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Oo-bla-Dee 

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OO-BLA-DEE, Goodman Theatre. The subjects that Regina Taylor addresses in her new play--the marginalization of female jazz performers, the plight of African-American army veterans after World War II--are potentially so intriguing that one wishes she'd constructed a more coherent and engaging play to explore them. Following horn player Gin Del Sol, who joins a jazz band in Saint Louis in 1946, Taylor has the outline of a decent plot. And her characters--including a reefer-smoking drummer, a convivial bass player, and an egomaniacal bandleader--are adequately developed, providing the opportunity for several charismatic performances. But Taylor's surreal drama, layered with poetic speeches about memory and the difficulty of escaping one's past, frequently seems to lose the thread of her story altogether.

The first two acts barely move forward, consisting largely of impressionistic and expository dialogue. Only in the final act, when a GI proposes to Gin, does the plot develop some tension. But by then it's too late to arouse empathy for the characters. The proceedings are observed throughout by Time--an actress standing on a balcony in front of a giant clock who makes historical references, twirls along with the music, and clacks out seconds with her tongue. Like Donald Eastman's beautiful set, which resembles an immense railroad platform, she carries far more metaphorical weight than Taylor's simple foundation can support.

--Adam Langer

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