As I made my way from one The Den Theatre’s elegant lobbies (equipped with a bar) through one of its mazes to one of its many studios, I was expecting to see a raunchy play about a young country music star, Justin’s (Michael Monroe Goodman), bachelor party gone awry (Straight off the heels of our own engagement, my new fiancée decided not to join me). What I found in Mark Roberts New Country was very different. Even before the play started, I was impressed by the set (Kevin Hagan): a designer, country-music themed, lobby of a posh hotel room. When the play began with the twenty-something country music star Justin’s groomsmen, and PR managers, Paul (Frank Nell) and Chuck (Will Clinger), exchanging dialogue that I found witty and enjoyable although their elaborate regional metaphors were all too typical of southern caricatures. That said, their delivery, persona’s, and character were well-executed and convincing.
Enter Justin and his eccentric Uncle Jim (Mark Roberts) and a special inflatable friend. Jim is obsessed with a pedantically politically correct use of language to tell off-colored stories about his escapades at Justin’s sometimes bullying behest which finally leads to some sort of diabetic attack. Roberts balances the comic, the maligned, the mysterious, and finally the tragic as Jim when he meets Sharon (Sara Lemp): an old acquaintance of his nephew, Justin’s, eager for revenge and exchanges his secrets for Jims. In doing so, Jim’s is revealed to be a great, sensitive, lyricist whose own secrets are about privacy and dignity while his nephews about infidelity, betrayal, and fraud. It’s a tall order for a performance, but Roberts balances every nuance on the very sound shoulders of Sarah Lemp’s “Sharon:” a tough, mysterious, no-nonsense cop. Their chemistry is pretty astounding: rarely, I’ve I seen to actors so well-paired.
Justin and Bell-Hop Ollie (Colter O’Ryan Smith) form new secrets that, putting Justin on a collision course with his managers. Goodman and Smith are both good as tawdry characters whose initial character eccentricities are revealed by the end of the play to be covering up a high degree of moral turpitude. Though generally interspersed with laugh-out-loud moments and dialogue, very little about this play’s themes is actually funny. For at its core, it is about heartbreak, disillusionment, ambition, infidelity, and loneliness, and while we leave laughing at the jokes as we come out of the theatre, it’s a tribute to director Ian Streicher that it is these very serious impressions and emotions that have been provoked in us and which stay in our minds.
“New Country” plays through May 14th 2016 at The Den Theatre located at 1333 W. Milwaukee Avenue. It is being produced by Fair Trade Productions. Performances are
additional performances Saturdays at 4:30 pm
Sunday’s at 6:00 pm.
Tickets are $45 each and may be purchased by calling the box office at 1-800-838-3006 or by visiting www.NewCountryThePLay.com It runs for 90 minutes without an intermission.
Parking can be a bit hard, so I suggest arriving early.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “New Country”