On an Average Day
at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—For playgoers prepared for still another dysfunctional family drama, “On an Average Day” is offered for your consideration. It isn’t a very good play but it does provide a platform for two white-hot performances that may be as intense and committed as any acting we will see this season.
“On an Average Day” was written by American playwright John Kolvenbach but premiered in London in 2002. The production won rave reviews for its two actors, Kyle MacLachlan and Woody Harrelson, though opinions were mixed about the quality of the script.
Earlier this year the play opened in Los Angeles to strong reviews. It is now installed at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre, a co-presentation by a new company called the Route 66 Theatre Company, which wants to establish a presence on the Chicago theater scene.
On the basis of the acting and staging of “On an Average Day,” Route 66 will be a welcome addition to local theater. The troupe just needs to find better material.
The drama is a two-hander about a pair of brothers, a grungy and volatile young man named Robert and his preppy older brother Jack. The action (which runs well under two hours including an intermission) takes place in Robert’s trash filled apartment.
At the opening Jack is visiting Robert for the first time in years. The tension level is high from the first moments. Robert is one of those unstable characters who make an audience nervous because he always seems on the brink of exploding into irrational violence. Jack is more controlled, neatly dressed and tight lipped.
much of the play Robert does the talking and Jack does the reacting. Robert is
a voluble young man, unable to sustain a straight line of conversion but still
oddly articulate. We learn early on that Robert has committed some act of
violence that has landed him in the legal system with the prospect of serious
jail time ahead.
Jack obviously also has issues, but we don’t learn about them until the end of the play. Indeed, even the manic Robert keeps asking his brother why he’s there. Eventually we get Jack’s big, and predictable, revelation, casting both brothers in a new light.
The family dysfunction has its roots in the father abandoning Jack and Robert when they both were boys. Jack raised Robert and himself for several years before fleeing himself. How two underage siblings could sustain themselves for so long without adult supervision is just one hole in the play’s porous narrative.
As coherent storytelling, “On an Average Day” is mostly unsatisfactory. Every major twist in the plot lacks credibility and Jack’s confessional speech, revealing why he visits Robert, is impossible to swallow.
What does sustain the evening is the volcanic stream of dialogue that shows the author as a master of language, if not storytelling. There is some black humor in the exchanges between the brothers and lots of tension. The verbiage is at such a high emotional level that the spectators are tempted to forgive the potholes in the story and just allow the scorching dialogue to wash over them.
The production does include one of the most realistic fight scenes I have ever seen on a stage. The scene took me back to the early days of the Steppenwolf Theatre when viewers in the front row cringed in physical fear as the actors exploded in physical violence practically in the face of the audience. The battle between Robert and Jack is truly spectacular, virtually destroying the set. The fact that it seems completely unmotivated doesn’t diminish its visceral impact.
The production brings the Los Angeles cast of Johnny Clark (Robert) and Stef Tovar (Jack) to Chicago. Tovar is a veteran of the American Theatre Company and his fine acting has been an ornament to area theater for years. Clark is a new face and he is superb. His Robert lives on his nerve ends, ferociously gushing language blended of paranoia and confusion. It’s to Tovar’s credit that he can hold his own against Clark’s nonstop motor.
Director Ron Klier does a heroic job of orchestrating the production in all its psychological and physical mayhem. Without the brilliant collaboration between Klier and his two-man cast “On an Average Day” could have been laughable.
Danny Cistone’s claustrophobic and junk ridden set is terrific, a vital if inanimate character in the action. Gelareh Khalioun and Erin Mueller designed the costumes and Jesse King the lighting. Klier designed the sound, including spooky musical effects that were intrusive rather than atmospheric and interfered with the gritty realism of the action. Ned Mochel earns a standing ovation for his spectacularly conceived fight scene.
“On an Average Day” runs through September 6 at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 773 871 3000.
For more information, visit www.route66theatre.org .
The show gets a rating of three stars. August 2008Contact Dan at email@example.com .