T' Hell With the Ladder | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

T' Hell With the Ladder 

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Beatnik Theatre, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, South Hall.

As an actor Patrick Ney has an endearingly earnest, Jimmy Stewart dopiness about him, but when this quality shows through in his writing it seems unnecessarily naive and obvious. You might want to watch Mr. Smith go to Washington, but it's less certain you'd enjoy one of his plays.

Developed through improv with the other nine "beatniks" in his company, Ney's T' Hell With the Ladder is a familiar, pleasant enough bit of youthful idealism, channel surfing from one picaresque adventure to another as three twentysomethings say to hell with the establishment. Carson (Ney) leaves his corporate job to dabble in drugs and beatnik literature, Veronica (Stephanie Mangalaras) blows off her accounting job and beer-sodden Wrigleyville buddies to become an actress, and Zach (Harry Bauer) turns his back on promising careers in medicine and top-40 radio to do--well, we don't know what.

The improv-sketch style makes the show gallop along but prevents us from becoming involved with the three rather generic, sketchily developed heroes and their conflicts. More interesting are the quirky characters they encounter, like Circus-Szalew-ski's air-guitar-thrashing dope dealer, Bob Skupien's wiseass basketball freak, and Lori A. Funk's bitchy improv teacher (a savage impersonation of a prominent Chicago figure). Too often, though, the targets of this satire--bad poets, scummy deejays, blathering professors--are too broadly drawn; the scenes here hardly ever reach the visceral intensity of the Morphine, Nirvana, and Beatles tunes blasted after every blackout. Zach's climactic "Fuck da Establishment, get off yer ass and turn off the TV" monologue is heartfelt, but it's neither earned nor credible.

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