Penguin Blues | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Penguin Blues 

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Penguin Blues, North Avenue Productions, at Shattered Globe Theatre. There are lots of scripts like this one: two characters, emotional opposites, pour out therapeutic confessions and discover that their pain connects them. If, unlike me, you haven't seen all 200 of them, Penguin Blues could seem a worthy novelty. Written by Ethan Phillips (who plays Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager), this 44-minute play connects two inmates in an alcohol rehab center: Gordon is a bitterly sarcastic, self-loathing voice-over actor ("I have the serenity of a subway") who tells awful jokes, sucks cancer sticks, and flaunts his addiction, and newcomer Sister Angelita is a beer-drinking teacher who lost her feeling for God about the time she discovered six-packs.

Reticent where Gordon is expansive, Angelita is in denial ("I was sent here!") and, like Gordon, hasn't told her family about her disease. Inevitably this bride of Christ brings out foul memories in Gordon of his miserable childhood ("I was lowered a Catholic") and Nazi-like nuns who beat the devil out of him, along with what felt like several organs.

Finally it's up to these strangers to forgive each other for the crimes committed against them in the past. But when that epiphany occurs it seems as manipulated as a talk-show hug. Performed incongruously on the set for Shattered Globe's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, this late-night staging by Doug McDade and Greg Nishimura is doggedly sympathetic to Phillips's formulas. Though Jeff Eide's stand-up cynic Gordon is a bit too brittle to earn his final unbending, Patricia Donegan's Angelita--a much more original creation--honorably conveys the sister's struggle to stay sober. --Lawrence Bommer

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