The Martyr | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Martyr 

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The Martyr, Great Beast Theater, at Frankie J's. After an appearance at the Rhinoceros Theater Festival, Jennifer Biddle LaFleur restages her solo work about a woman hell-bent on achieving spiritual glory. Her quest, inspired by a carpet stain resembling the Blessed Virgin, begins as a regimen of self-sacrifice (eating Grape-Nuts and rubbing her body with itchy polyester until lunch) but spirals into a darkly comic obsession that leaves a few people dead. Aspiring to heavenly service, she winds up steeped in cowardice and competition (not to mention wicked chain-smoking), becoming in effect the antimartyr.

Biddle LaFleur has a great track record for creating twisted, morbidly fascinating characters. But at this point her monologue feels slightly overwritten and underdirected: the author-actress tends to get bogged down in a largely unmodulated stream of words, virtually drowning her piece's climax. If she and director Jay Paul Skelton could prune the monologue and let the piece's natural rhythms emerge, its impact would dramatically increase.

Each evening features a guest artist. On opening night, Barrie Cole engaged in a disturbingly intense dialogue with an invisible friend about a book she loves so much that she feels compelled to treat it as a pet, even dragging it behind her on a leash. Like a character from a Russell Edson poem, Cole was absolutely credible in her absurdity, though her shrill delivery and constant repetition went through my head like a nail.

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