Up Against It | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Up Against It 

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Think of it as the Joe Orton play that never was, or the Richard Lester movie that might have been. Written in 1967 as a screenplay for the Beatles (whose agents rejected it), and then taken under consideration by trendsetting filmmaker Lester until Orton was murdered by his boyfriend, Up Against It is peppered with impudent Ortonisms: jabs at organized religion and political corruption, an obsession with sexual fetishism and gender confusion, and an outsider's contempt for both conventional proprieties and hip amorality. Orton's absurdist satire concerns two rebellious schoolboys, McTurk and Low, adrift in a topsy-turvy England run by women--including a lady prime minister, whom the heroes help assassinate, and the amazonian constable Connie, who makes Low her transvestite sex slave. Adapting the work for the Lookingglass Theatre Company, director Bruce Norris downplays Orton's misogyny by emphasizing the script's adolescent anarchism and elevating two supporting female parts to center stage. Lance Baker and Douglas Hara, outfitted with Fab Four mop-tops as McTurk and Low, acceptably suggest a sullen, self-absorbed John Lennon and an ingenuous Ringo Starr. But the freshest and most memorable moments come from Heidi Stillman as McTurk's shallow socialite lover Rowena, "the most modern woman in the world," and Joy Gregory as Patricia, the Rita Tushingham-type ugly duckling who lands the lads in a group-marriage bed (the sneering sound you hear is Orton thumbing his nose at the Beatles' squeaky-clean image). Gregory and Stillman are also represented as songwriters; along with Norris and Rick Sims, they've penned a terrific pop score that's almost perfectly Beatle-esque with its unexpected yet naturally flowing changes in feeling and form. And the presence of the two women on guitar and drums reinforces Norris's play-within-a-play concept, which has Orton's screenplay being staged as barroom entertainment by a 60s rock group. Goodman Theatre Studio, 200 S. Columbus, 443-3800. Through September 17: Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 6 and 9 PM; Sundays, 2:30 PM. $10-$15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Catlin.

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