Thursday July 20th 2017

“Illegal Use of Hands”

Somewhat recommended**They say that “revenge is sweet”,  but for many it is the idea of getting revenge that keeps the juices flowing, not the actual deed. In fact, in James Still’s World Premiere, now on the stage at The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater/Richard Christansen ( upstairs studio), “Illegal Use of Hands”, we get to meet three men, in a small depressed town that spend a night dealing with the misfortunes that may be the root of their lives falling apart. It is “Homecoming” at the high school and they have just lost another football game. Two alumni, Roy ( Howie Johnson) and Cody (Steve Key), who in their senior year came close to winning the championship come to the home of Wallace ( smartly played by Dennis Zacek) to finish some old business. Howie has stolen the second place trophy, one that the current students know nothing about) in order to get revenge with Wallace, who was the ref in the championship game. In Roy’s mind, it was a call made by Wallace that cost them the games and changed his fate .

Directed by Sandy Shinner of a stunningly accurate set(Grant Sabin) that could easily be the home of a recluse, loner in the middle of rural America, there is sme powerful character building but a somewhat weak script. Shinner and her cast do the best with the material, but there are some missing pieces in this 80 plus minutes of dark comedy. The fight sequences ( Derek Gaspar and Chris Rickett) are done well and the props assembled by Eileen Rozycki are amazing. The fact is with all the “stuff” on stage, it is amazing that during the fights no one gets killed. Lindsay Jones music and sound are effective and Charlie Cooper’s lights are well done. There are some lighting flashes that are meant to take us back in time to the football stadium, but they are not as effective as they might have been as the script really doesn’t take us there!

These are three desperate characters ( in search of a play), all who have had unsuccessful lives and in Howie’s case, he blames it all on not winning that football game. As the evening wears on and each tells of the lives that they have led, we feel the unhappiness each has- the feeling that they lost the glory that was meant to be theirs and what it is to be a man. Roy has it the worst, not happy in life and love and continually needing to prove his manhood. Cody has transformed his life and came back to see his old friend, but learns of some sadness in that regard and Wallace just lives his life, day to day. I must say that seeing Zacek on the stage, in the building that he helped bring to fruition is a treat. He plays the snarly old loner with just what one would expect from a character such as this. For young actors, it will be a treat to watch his character development ( an experienced actor and director using the tools of his trade as they are meant to be used)- it is a pity the script is not up the capabilities of  the company.                                                                                                                                        

“Illegal Use of Hands” is being presented by American Blues Theater ( a company that I find solid in their productions) throughSeptember 30th with performances as follows:

Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $19-$39 and can be purchased at the theater box office located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.americanbluestheater.com ( where you can also learn about upcoming productions including their amazing annual holiday show “It’s A Wonderful Life”

for other views on this production, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “Illegal Use of Hands”

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