Friday September 22nd 2017

“Oohrah!”

Somewhat recommended**For the thrd year, Steppenwolf Theatre is presenting is annual GARAGE REP, featuring three rotating production from three of Chicago’s most impressive and innovative, storefront companies. This year, they are LiveWire Chicago,Theatre Zarko and The Inconvenience. This series runs from February 2nd thru April 8th at The Steppenwolf Garage, which is in itself a kind of “storefront, although in actuality this theater is the ground floor of a three story garage that has been transformed into a theater space that can be used for all types of productions and by other visiting companies. It is a comfortable space, well appointed with a flexible stage area.

While the theater schedule has been very busy, I was able ot get there for the LiveWire Chicago production of “Oohrah!”, written by Bekah Brunstetter, a gifted playwright who might want to step back a bit and re-examine the finished product as I found this production to be 7 actors in search of the script. Why? , you might ask. Well, the story has a great number of loose ends. The plot is about a family, a sort of dysfunctional family. At the start, we meet Sara(Melissa Engle) and her sister Abby ( Calliope Porter) who is living with her while her husband is overseas in Iraq. They are planning Sara’s daughter Lacey’s( the adorable Madeline Long) birthday party, when they are surprised by Ron ( deftly handled by Josh Odor)arriving home early. He has been gone a long time, serving many tours of duty and coming home will be a major adjustment for him, or so we are told.

While this family is not atypical of those who have served in the military, we are not told of Ron’s true fear of living a normal life until much later. Meanwhile, Lacy is a teen who wants nothing more than to be a Marine and would prefer shooting a rifle and wearing fatigues over a dress and patent leather shoes.Abby , on the other hand has a fiance,Christopher ( the very funny Joel Ewing, who makes this nerdy character the only real “normal” person in the story) who lovs her with all his heart and soul, but as it turns out, she is unsure of her love for him.

As a flight attendant,Abby meets a Marine, Chip ( a strong performance by Ian R. Tranberg), who we find out later has a deep secret in his life. For some reason, let’s call it sexual attraction and his uniform, Abby invites him to have dinner with her sister’s family the night that Ron has just returned and to spend the night where she has an encounter with him. What follows this is the truth about Chip coming out, Christopher and Abby having strains in their relationship, a birthday/coming out party that wreaks havoc on the family and the girl’s father Pop Pop ( Peter Espisito) who has recently had a stroke and to be honest, has no other purpose than to complain and live in the past ( when he goes into his memory speeches, the lights seem to dim as if in a trance).

The acting is powerful, the set by Judy Radovsky, well done and except for the two lighting spots where Pop Pop speaks,Eric Bransort, has done a great job. The sound and music by Stephen Ptacek and properties by Maria DeFabo are better than usual for a low budget production and Brad Akin’s direction was smooth ,making the best use of the space and the actors. It is the script that had to many holes in it that left me wanting more. I wanted to know why Ron was unhappy coming home to a beautiful wife and daughter! I wanted to know why Pop Pop was being cared for by the two daughters but lived alone! I wanted to know what the hell was wrong with Abby and why she had to live with her sister if she made a living and why Chip felt the way he did. The final scene of the play is one that I cannot really describe, but it left me cold and with the subject matter- an army office coming home after fighting a war that we shouldn’t be in and his world falling apart, deserves more.

The other plays in this series are “Hit The Wall  presented by The Inconvenience and”He Who” presented by Theatre Zarko

Tickets are $20 and for $45, you can purchase a three play pass. They can be purchased at Steppenwolf Theatre’s box office located at 1650 N. Halsted treet ( just down the block), by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org/garage

The remaining “marathon days”, where you can see all three on one day are Saturday,April 7th and Sunday,April 8th

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