Wednesday August 23rd 2017

“Rantoul and Die”

Highly Recommended American Blues Theater Ensemble produces stories about working people, for the most part “blue collar” types and in their latest production, “Rantoul and Die” written by Mark Roberts, one gets to meet some very dysfunctional characters in a small town , Rantoul, Illinois.One must understand that Roberts has enjoyed great success in writing sit-coms ( “Two and a Half Men” is one of his) and so this 90 minute story in two scenes had the feeling of a sit-com but with a certain tragic undertone to the plot. As the play opens, in the darkness, we hear a man’s voice, his words almost sound as if there is something very kinky going on and as the lights come up we see that  Gary ( a marvelous portrayal by the always reliable Francis Guinan) choking  the other, Rallis ( Alan Wilder as the loser of all losers). The kitchen/living room set ( a remarkable job by Sarah E. Ross) is the epitome of squalor- messy as can be with piles of clothes, old beat up furniture and lots of ugly stuff with empty beer bottles atop every place one could possibly be. As these two men talk, we find that Rallis has just tried to kill himself and was saved by his good friend, Gary. They talk about the situation that has brought this to be and of how they have lived their lives on a different level. It turns out that Rallis’ wife, Debbie ( the dynamic Kate Buddeke) has asked him to pack up and leave as she wants a divorce. Gary tries to convince his friend that he should let her go- her should start anew, but Rallis wants another chance; he loves her!

When Debbie comes home the situation gets worse. She hates her life, assistant manager at the local Dairy Queen and she hates her husband. It turns out that she has a few secrets as does Gary and that when Debbie produces the divorce paperwork, he realizes that this is the end of what he has called happiness and takes matters into his own hands. What takes place is a shocking end to the first scene. As the next scene opens, Debbie’s boss, Callie ( the darling Cheryl Graeff in a role that allows her to show off her comedic talents), a loner who resides with her mother and her 14 cats, is taking care of Rallis, a man that she has enjoyed conversing with for a long time. From this point on, I cannot divulge much of the story as it is a wild ride for these four characters, each dysfunctional in his or her own way. They are all, as it turns out “losers”, but as the stories unfold, we start to think that  Rallis may be the only sympathetic person in the lot! He had no control over who he was, just a “tender hearted” man. Director Erin Quigley has put these four powerful actors in a position to paint a picture of  real people with small town values and nowhere to go on a canvass that is funny at times, sad at others and in the end, the result will make us glad that we have what we have in our lives. There are many moments of laughter in this production and a wonderful story ( both grim and hilarious) told bt Callie ( Ms Graeff’s shining moment)- just this scene is worth the cost of a ticket, but the entire 90 minutes will keep your interest as we go from point to point in the twisted but simple and complicated lives of these characters. Yes, there are contradictions in what I just said, but that is what this whole play is about- contradictions! They always say “be careful what you wish for” and Robert’s characters truly make a point of this!  Be aware that there is strong language and some violence in this play!

The intimacy of the upstairs Richard Christiansen Theater at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater makes this production truly work. The lighting (Brian Claggett), costumes (Samantha C. Jones),sound (Lindsay Jones and Scott Nielsen) ,fight choreography (Joe Foust) and the absolutely amazing props by Sarah Burnham are the icing on the cake. A cake that you will enjoy, but perhaps will not go back for seconds.The performance schedule for “Rantoul and Die” is as follows:

Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.* Through May 22nd

*After the Sunday performance, a post show discussion will take place and a complimentary treat from Dairy Queen served.

Tickets range from $32-$40 and are available at the theater box office located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at

To learn more about this theater company, visit

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