Two by Harry | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Two by Harry 

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Two by Harry, Cobalt Ensemble Theatre, at the Viaduct Theater. In 1983 rising young playwright Harry Kondoleon shared an Obie with Caryl Churchill and David Mamet; 11 years later he was dead. During this time he managed to churn out 17 dramas, stylistic cousins to those by fellow Yalie Christopher Durang. Unfortunately these two one-acts don't do him justice: too similar to start with, they could also use some heavy editing.

Despite their feints at narrative, these works are as much performance as theater, dialectic meditations developed by bickering mouthpieces. When it works, Kondoleon's approach produces a faintly magic absurdism; when it doesn't, the light banter merely blunts the heavier undertones. Love Diatribe is sparklingly funny till midway through, when an annoying Pollyanna overwhelms the whole piece. Saved or Destroyed, disjointed and surreal from the get-go, tries to resolve its complex nested structure with more of the same. But the biggest problem is the double bill. Both pieces relentlessly revisit the same material--curmudgeonly father figures, intimations of domestic violence, mystical cycles of death and rebirth--and seem first to repeat themselves, then each other. And at an hour-plus apiece, they're too long to be paired.

Still, director Jay Paul Skelton captures Kondoleon's sweet, sad humanism with rare grace, and the works offer plenty of chances for actorly stretching. This cast makes the most of them; especially good are Glenn Fahlstrom, Nicole Pitman, Vance Smith, and Thomas Jones.

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