The Idiot Box | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Idiot Box 

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The Idiot Box, Naked Eye Theatre Company, at Theatre Building Chicago. Even before Michael Elyanow's new play begins, we know we're in TV land: jangly music swells and the lights come up on a brightly colored, uncluttered living space. After that, the montage establishing the kooky characters is almost unnecessary, except as another opportunity to laugh at a sitcom's familiar tropes. Then the six friends shrug, mug, and pratfall their way through contrived schemes and conveniently resolved misunderstandings.

But something about their artificial world isn't right: simply being funny doesn't seem to be enough. The safety of the sitcom universe is invaded by reality, and the characters discover complex drives and desires and confront new ideas about racism, war, sexuality, depression, masculinity, and love. Elyanow tackles all these subjects with great wit and intelligence, and director Jeremy B. Cohen and his excellent cast seamlessly blend the script's silly, serious, and dark moments.

Regrettably the play needs editing, particularly the first act. Elyanow is too evenhanded, giving each of his characters a full subplot. Adhering to the sitcom style of bringing only a few characters to the forefront in any one episode might have given the play greater focus and momentum, but at this point it has a supersized feel. Smartly written and deftly performed, The Idiot Box ultimately stumbles under the weight of Elyanow's admirable ambition.

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