Versailles | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Versailles, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Pastiche can be an art form if it serves an idea, but the only idea in Ben Byer's "family comedy" is that men like to masturbate. This sloppy exercise in serial dramatic styles incorporates David Mamet's repetitive obscenities, Sam Shepard's disgusting family secrets, Arthur Miller's bourgeois despair, and John Osborne's comedy of cruelty. The only dramatic rule Byer observes is one derived from Chekhov: if you put a video camera onstage in the first act, you'd better use it in the second.

The plot--son of an impoverished family concocts get-rich-quick scheme (here an Internet porn site)--is a true chestnut, and indeed Byer's goofy mother and tycoon father reduced to clerking at Walgreens come direct from Kaufman and Hart, minus the wit. Among the familiar TV types are a painter who never leaves (Murphy Brown), a posturing cop (The Dukes of Hazzard), an overdressed harpy (Will & Grace), even Eva Gabor's ditsy foreigner from Green Acres. Parading around in search of a comic plot, they encounter instead the tale of the daughter, whose agoraphobia seems the result of her brother's incestuous attentions. A real laff riot.

Eric Johnson as the son gives a performance admirably free of vanity, and the others gamely do their best. But Rachel Frizzi's costume designs offer the evening's only original ideas: the mother's leopard-skin booties and Lurex skirt with panty hose showing at the top say more about the character than anything the playwright's written.


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