Scrounging Change | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Scrounging Change 

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Main Line Productions

at Dreamerz

The most original playwrights all seem to tap into a mysterious, subterranean mental world. Samuel Beckett used to silence his mind and wait for "the voice" to start dictating to him. Maria Irene Fornes has developed a technique to "jump start" her imagination through detailed visualization. Sam Shepard's early plays were largely a form of free association.

Joe Larocca has discovered a way to do this, too: his characters seem to be giving uncensored voice to some vast reservoir of distress that he harbors within himself. Their monologues are rants--fevered confessions of hatred, or impassioned complaints. They don't speak their feelings, they spew them out, as though venting some of the anger and fear building up in Larocca's mind.

The problem is, Larocca exerts very little control over his writing. It is certainly spontaneous and original, but unlike other playwrights who eventually learn how to shape such raw material into sustained drama, Larocca just lets it gush. His pieces explode like flashbulbs, providing bursts of blinding light, but then they quickly burn out. His recent collection of monologues, Scrounging Change, is more like performance art than drama, but it's disturbing stuff whatever you choose to call it.

The overall creepy tone of these five scenes is reinforced by the dingy performance space above Dreamerz, the club on North Milwaukee where they're being staged. Almost every piece contains a violent fantasy. "Dust," for example, a monologue delivered by Larocca himself, is about a young man who has recently come down from an angel-dust high. The man recounts a terrifically funny story about going to a movie theater while high and mistaking the actors for real people sitting in his living room. Annoyed, he tells one of them to "Get the fuck out of here"--and is startled to discover a strange man standing next to him with a flashlight. "You're gonna get the fuck out of here if you don't shut up," says the man, who turns out to be an usher.

But even this humorous piece revolves around a grotesque fantasy about slaughtering a husband and wife. "I'd take him first," Larocca says. "The very worst thing you can do is make them watch you kill the one they love." Then he describes how he would kill the woman.

Another monologue, "Tread," is delivered by an impressive actor, Doug Spinuzza, who portrays a crazed man whose body is painted with stripes like those on the U.S. flag. "I got this philosophy on livin'," the man says menacingly. "I like it." But he is crouched next to a container of gasoline, suggesting that he plans to set himself on fire, and his semi-coherent diatribe, often delivered in rhyme, reinforces our impression that this guy finds life too much to bear. "Got this freaky-deaky thought that makes me laugh at lightning, makes me whistle wasted blood and bed with friendships frightening," he says. "Got this freaky-deaky goddamned thought that what we say is what we're not! And where we stand is where we'll rot!"

The violence is not always so overt and intimidating, but it's never entirely absent. "Wax" is about a young working-class couple held together by poverty, depicted by a long chain that joins them at the ankles. In another engaging performance, Spinuzza portrays the man as intelligent, sincere, and likable. But even this seemingly gentle man gets up early every morning and reads the paper carefully so he'll know "what area of the world is fucked up." Then he fantasizes about getting a job "carrying cameras" in one of those trouble spots and getting paid "a shitload" for accepting such a dangerous assignment. His wife, portrayed by the intense Katherine Chronis, fantasizes about becoming an assassin. "I know what it means to slit a throat, to cut the umbilical cord of affection," she says.

Chronis also delivers the overheated (and overwritten) final monologue, "Throne," which sounds at times like the prayer of a masochist. "Pain is what makes a soul like me holy," she says. "Pain is what makes my blood jump, then run. Agony is rapture for His chosen targets. . . . You can never give enough, and you will never go too far. So beat and pummel this Blue Bitch--I can never have enough, and you can never be too rough."

In these monologues Larocca seems to give vent to a lot of his own inner turbulence. Part of that must be rooted in his critical observations of life. In "Box," for example, he portrays a young man who cherishes a boom box. "It's protection and aggression packed into one little portable plastic unit," he explains.

But for whatever reason, the 25- year-old Larocca is obviously preoccupied by violence. He once went to Northern Ireland, he says, intending to study the interaction between politics and terrorism. But while there, he literally felt the reverberations from a blast caused by a van full of explosives, and he saw what a pipe bomb planted beneath an armored carrier can do to the British soldiers inside. Hatred, violence, terror, and death ceased to be abstract concepts. They became the stuff of real life--the kind of stuff that does not lend itself to a reassuring view of the world.

Scrounging Change seems to be Larocca's attempt to deal with some of that distressing stuff. By letting it gush to the surface, he can expose it to the light of full awareness, and maybe even find a place for such horrors in his picture of reality. In a sense, then, the monologues possess one attribute of good drama--they provide catharsis. But they provide catharsis primarily for the playwright. The audience just gets to share the author's agitation.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander Newberry.

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